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Kyiv says Russian strike damaged 40,000 tons of grain, some of it destined for Israel

KYIV, Ukraine — Russian drones on Wednesday hit a Ukrainian port city along the border with Romania, causing significant damage and a huge fire at facilities that are key to Ukrainian grain exports.

The attacks followed the end of a deal with Russia that had allowed Ukrainian shipments to world markets from the Black Sea port of Odesa. Since scrapping the deal, Russia has hammered the country’s ports with strikes, compounding the blow to the key industry. In the past two weeks, dozens of drones and missile attacks have targeted the port of Odesa and the region’s river ports, which are being used as alternative routes.

The head of the Ukrainian president’s office, Andriy Yermak, said the city of Izmail, on the Danube River that forms part of the Ukraine-Romania border, was hit in the strikes.

Video obtained by The Associated Press showed explosions and a large fire in the distance on the Danube, captured by fishermen in Romania, a NATO member, on the other side of the river.

Three Ukrainian ports along the Danube are currently operating.

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“The goal of the enemy was clearly the facilities of the ports and industrial infrastructure of the region,” Ukraine’s South operational command wrote in an update on Facebook. As a result of the attack, a fire broke out at industrial and port facilities, and a grain elevator was damaged.

This photo provided by regional Governor Oleh Kiper shows the site of drone attack in Odesa region, Ukraine, August 2, 2023. (Telegram Channel of Odesa Region Governor Oleh Kiper via AP)

Ukrainian infrastructure minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said that about 40,000 metric tons (44,000 tons) of grain, which had been expected by countries in Africa, as well as China and Israel, was damaged in the attack.

He accused Russia of using Iranian drones to carry out the attack.

“These are the very ports that have become the foundation of global food security today,” Kubrakov said.

Separately, Ukraine’s air force intercepted 23 Iranian-made Shahed drones fired by Russia over the country overnight, mostly in Odesa and Kyiv, according to a morning update.

All 10 drones fired at Kyiv were intercepted, said Serhii Popko, the head of Kyiv City Administration. Numerous loud explosions were heard overnight as air defense systems were activated. Debris from felled drones hit three districts of the capital, damaging a nonresidential building, Popko said.

“Russian terrorists have once again targeted ports, grain facilities and global food security,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy posted Wednesday morning on Telegram. “The world must respond.”

He confirmed that some drones hit their targets, with the most “significant damage” in the south of Ukraine.

Wheat prices rose about 3% and corn prices were up nearly 2% on Wednesday following the new attacks, showing the continued volatility in world markets as Russia targets Ukraine’s ports and agricultural infrastructure.

Ukraine is a major supplier of wheat, corn, vegetable oil and other agricultural products important to the Middle East, Africa and parts of Asia where people are struggling with high food prices and hunger.

Ukraine also can export by road and rail through Europe, but those routes are more costly than going by the Black Sea and have stirred divisions among nearby countries.

Russia and Ukraine agreed a year ago on a deal brokered by the United Nations and Turkey that reopened three Ukrainian Black Sea ports blocked by fighting and provided assurances that ships entering the ports would not be attacked. Russia declined to renew the agreement last month, complaining that its own exports were being held up.

A maintenance worker stands outside a damaged government building in Kyiv, Ukraine, August 2, 2023, following Russian drone attacks. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

In a telephone conversation Wednesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Russia’s Vladimir Putin that he would seek to restore the Black Sea initiative to export Ukrainian grain, according to his office.

Referring to the deal as a “bridge of peace,” Erdogan told Putin that Turkey would “continue to carry out intensive efforts and diplomacy for the continuation of the Black Sea initiative.”

The statement said the two leaders had agreed on Putin visiting Turkey but did not provide a date. Erdogan has previously said Putin would come during August.

A Kremlin statement about the call said “readiness was confirmed to return to the Istanbul agreements as soon as the West actually fulfills all the obligations to Russia recorded in them.” It said preparations were continuing for “a possible meeting” of Putin and Erdogan.

Two civilians were wounded in shelling of the city of Kherson during the night, regional Gov. Oleksandr Prokudin said Wednesday. A summary from Zelenskyy’s office said a doctor was killed and five medical personnel were wounded in an attack on a city hospital in Kherson, but didn’t specify if the attack was on Wednesday or Tuesday.

A 91-year-old woman died in an attack on a village in the Kharkiv region, the presidential office said.

In the eastern region of Donetsk, four people were wounded in Russian shelling over the past day, according to Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko.

The area around the city of Nikopol, across the river from the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, was shelled three times, Gov. Serhiy Lysak said.