Russian Drone Strikes Cut Deep Into Ukraine's Danube River Lifeline

Trucks burn at a riverine port on Ukraine's branch of the Danube river delta, Sept. 13 (Ukrainian Interior Ministry

Published Sep 13, 2023 11:33 PM by The Maritime Executive

Repeated Russian drone strikes on Ukraine's Danube River ports are taking a serious toll, a top Ukrainian official warned Wednesday.

The ports of Reni and Izmail, located on the Ukrainian bank of the northern Danube estuary, are a lifeline for the nation's farmers and grain traders. When Russia shut off access to Ukraine's Black Sea coastline in July, resuming a de facto blockade of dry bulk shipping between Odesa and the Bosporus, the small Danube ports became one of the last remaining options for getting abundant Ukrainian wheat and corn to international markets. 

Ukraine and its allies have been working on ways to boost throughput at Reni and Izmail, but Russian forces have been trying just as hard to destroy port capacity. Using waves of Iranian-designed Shahed suicide drones, Russia has repeatedly hit silos, truck marshalling yards, storage warehouses and other civilian infrastructure at the port complexes. Overnight Tuesday, the latest strike destroyed several buildings and left seven people injured, including two who required intensive care.  

Interior Ministry of Ukraine

The strikes have cut back grain throughput at the ports by half a million tonnes a month, according to Ukrainian Minister of Infrastructure Oleksandr Kubrakov. This amounts to a measurable share of Ukraine's grain exports, which totaled some 50 million tonnes last year.

"This threatens food shortages in countries that depend on Ukrainian agricultural products. Additional air defense systems assets for Ukraine will strengthen global security," said Kubrakov.

Air defense could also strengthen security in neighboring Romania, where officials have set up temporary bomb shelters and air-raid alert systems for the villages located across the river from Reni and Izmail. 

On Wednesday, the Romanian military recovered the remains of a Russian drone some 15 miles south of Izmail, deep in Romanian territory. It is the third time that pieces of a Russian suicide drone have been found inside of Romania, but the first time that a drone trespassed far past the border. 

Romania's secretary of state for strategic affairs, Iulian Fota, summoned the Russian ambassador on Wednesday and lodged a stern protest "against the repeated violation of Romania's airspace." Fota called for a halt to attacks on Ukraine's civilian infrastruture, describing the Russian strikes on grain ports and other civil facilities as "war crimes." 

Romania is a NATO member state, and the overflow of Russian drone operations onto NATO territory has raised concerns of possible escalation. NATO spokesperson Dylan White told media on Wednesday that “NATO has no information indicating any intentional attack by Russia" against a NATO member nation.