Russia on July 20 launched a third consecutive round of air strikes on southern Ukraine, targeting port installations and grain storage facilities as well as civilian infrastructure and killing at least two people, regional officials said.
The attacks came after Russia refused to extend a UN-sponsored deal that had allowed shipments of Ukrainian grain abroad, and warned that it would consider cargo ships on the Black Sea destined for Ukraine as potential military targets.
In Mykolayiv, one person was killed and at least 18 civilians, including children, were wounded in an attack on a three-story residential building in the city center, regional Governor Vitaliy Kim said.
“The Russians hit the city center. A garage and a three-story residential building caught fire…. A total of 18 people were injured. Nine of them were hospitalized, including five children, while two people were rescued from under the rubble. It’s a miracle that we managed to save them,” Kim said.
In Odesa, at least two civilians, one of them a 21-year-old man, were killed in the strikes that targeted grain and oil terminals, and also caused destruction in the city center, Odesa region Governor Oleh Kiper reported.
“Unfortunately, as a result of the overnight Russian attack, we have one person killed in Odesa. The deceased is a security guard of a civil building, born in 2002,” he said, adding that the body of a second victim was pulled from under the rubble.
The Ukrainian Energy Ministry said grain terminals and port infrastructure in the ports of Odesa and Chornomorsk were targeted. In Chornomorsk, 60,000 tons of grain were destroyed, the ministry said.
Ukraine’s air defense said in an update on July 20 that during the attack, Russia fired 19 cruise missiles and 19 kamikaze drones. It said it shot down 13 Iranian-made drones, two Kalibr cruise missiles, and three Iskander-K missiles.
Russia’s Defense Ministry has said strikes on Odesa and Mykolayiv were retaliation against facilities where it claimed Ukraine was building seaborne drones of the type that Moscow says damaged a bridge in the annexed region of Crimea.
But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on his Telegram channel late on July 19 the Russian strikes had “deliberately” targeted sites in the Odesa region that are used to export grain after Russia refused to extend the grain deal.
“About 1 million tons of food is stored in the ports that were attacked today. Exactly the volume that should have been delivered to consumer countries in Africa and Asia a long time ago,” Zelenskiy said in a video message. “Everyone in the world should be interested in holding Russia accountable for terror,” he added.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres slammed the attacks near the Black Sea port cities.
“These attacks are…having an impact well beyond Ukraine. We are already seeing the negative effect on global wheat and corn prices which hurts everyone, but especially vulnerable people in the global south,” Guterres said in a statement from his spokesman, Stephane Dujarric.
After Ukraine said it would continue to export grain despite Moscow’s pullout from the deal, Russia announced that starting from July 20, it would consider international waters in northwestern and southeastern parts of the Black Sea “temporarily dangerous” for shipping and warned that it will consider any incoming vessel as a legitimate target.
The Russian statement prompted the White House to issue a warning that Moscow is preparing for possible attacks on civilian cargo ships in the Black Sea.
“Our information indicates that Russia laid additional sea mines in the approaches to Ukrainian ports,” White House National Security Council spokesman Adam Hodge said in a statement.
“We believe that this is a coordinated effort to justify any attacks against civilian ships in the Black Sea and lay blame on Ukraine for these attacks.”
The Russian ambassador to the U.S. was quoted by RIA Novosti as saying that Moscow was not preparing to attack civilian ships on the Black Sea.
The Black Sea escalation comes as Kyiv reports a new attempt by Russia to return to the offensive in the northeast. Two people were wounded in an afternoon attack on July 20 on a village in the Kharkiv region.
At the same time the United States said U.S.-supplied cluster munitions are being deployed in the field. White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the munitions are having an impact on Russian defensive formations and maneuvering.
“We have gotten some initial feedback from the Ukrainians, and they’re using them quite effectively,” Kirby said at a news briefing.
Also on July 20, Valeriy Zaluzhniy, commander in chief of the Ukrainian forces, had a phone call about the operational situation along the entire front line with U.S. General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“The armed forces of Ukraine, despite the enemy’s extremely complex minefields, anti-tank barricades, and a fire damage system, are methodically destroying the enemy’s forces and continue to conduct offensive actions to de-occupy our territory. We are successful in several areas. Our soldiers are heroes,” Zaluzhniy said on Facebook.
Source : Rferl