Russian Air Strikes on Odesa Raise Concerns for Grain Shipments
In apparent retaliation for brazen strikes by Ukraine in recent days deep in Russian-held Crimea, the port city of Odesa was struck by a barrage of rockets overnight. The attacks raised fresh concerns over the security of the grain shipment program and the vessels operating into the Port of Odesa, but officials sought to reassure saying the vessel movement was continuing.
The Ministry of Defense of Turkey issued a brief update this morning on social media saying, "Grain shipments from Ukrainian ports continue as planned. As of the morning of August 17, four more vessels carrying sunflower meal, sunflower oil, and corn departed from the Ukrainian ports of Odesa and Chornomorsk."
This came after a spokesperson for the military command in Odesa sent out messages about the latest round of Russian attacks on the city. Serhil Bratchuk reported that the Russians had fired anti-ship missiles from airplanes, a tactic the Russians have used before in attacking cities in Ukraine. He appeared to be trying to say the damage was contained and not near the port, citing damage to a recreation center and injuries to four people. He however also said that there was a fire raging covering a 600-square meter area of the city (approximately 6,500 square feet). CNN also showed photos of a building they identified as a hotel damaged in the overnight attacks.
Hours after the grain deal was signed in July, Russia also attacked Odesa. That attack struck areas in the port however it was before the grain operations resumed. Since then, Russia has promised to respect the grain deal which opened three ports and provided for a humanitarian corridor across the Black Sea to Turkey.
The Ukrainian Sea Ports Authority later today released a statement saying that five ships had departed the ports including Odesa. They said it was the seventh and largest convoy yet formed in the third week of the corridor. The five ships were reportedly carrying more than 70,000 tons of grain and notably included the departure of the first vessel chartered by the UN to carry wheat to Africa.
In the 16 days of operation, Ukrainian officials are reporting that a total of 21 ships have traveled through the corridor. The Joint Coordination Center said a total of 16 ships have been cleared to depart the three ports carrying a total of more than 450,000 metric tons of foodstuffs. However, as was pointed out earlier most of it has been corn that is used as animal feed with the UN chartering a ship and advocating for more wheat shipments. The JCC says 12 ships were cleared for the inbound voyage with the first of them have now completed the round trip.
Ukraine’s Infrastructure Ministry which oversees the agricultural programs said earlier in the week that they continued to gain momentum. They reported that 30 ships have applied to come to Ukraine in the next two weeks. They forecasted that Ukraine would export three million tonnes of grain from its ports in September. In the future, they said it might be possible to get grain exports back to the four-million-ton mark.