Russia bombed the Black Sea city of Odessa for the second day in a row with drones and missiles, triggering loud, drawn-out explosions early Wednesday in what Ukrainian officials described as an attack on grain terminals and other critical infrastructure that Ukraine needs to ship food to the world.
The Ukrainian Air Force said it was one of the largest sustained air strikes on Odessa, the country’s largest port, and that several waves of missiles and drones were fired at other cities overnight. Smoke is seen rising over the main port of Odessa as dawn breaks.
President Volodymyr Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials described the attack as part of a Russian effort to resume its de facto blockade of the Black Sea, after Moscow withdrew from a UN-brokered deal that allowed Ukrainian grain ships to export food. Russian missiles also struck Odessa on Tuesday in what Moscow claimed was retaliation for an attack on a vital bridge in occupied Crimea.
“Russian terrorists deliberately targeted the infrastructure of the grain deal, and every Russian missile is a blow not only to Ukraine, but to everyone in the world who wants a normal and safe life,” Mr. Zelensky said Wednesday on messaging app Telegram.
At least 30 cruise missiles and 32 attack drones were launched at targets across the country, mainly from the Black Sea, said the Ukrainian Air Force. Ukraine said it had intercepted 14 missiles and 23 drones.
“It was a hell of a night,” said Serhiy Prachuk, a spokesman for the Odessa regional military administration, in a video message posted on social media. He described the attack as “very strong and really massive” and said it was probably the largest attack on the city since the start of the all-out Russian invasion.
In Odessa, one intercepted missile caused a large explosion, and the explosion damaged several buildings and injured civilians, according to the Ukrainian military. The military said port infrastructure, including a grain and oil terminal, tanks and loading equipment, had been damaged. The army stated that tobacco and fireworks warehouses were also bombed. The Odessa city government said that 10 people needed medical help, including a 9-year-old boy.
In Russian-occupied Crimea, a fire at a military training ground prompts the evacuation of at least 2,000 residents and shuts down a highway, according to Sergei Aksionov, Russia-appointed President of Crimea.
Tensions are running high around the Black Sea after Monday’s explosion at the Kerch Strait bridge linking Crimea to Russia. The bridge, a strategically important supply link for Russian forces in southern Ukraine, was damaged in an apparent Ukrainian attack by drones.
Moscow denied the attacks were linked to the pending grain deal, saying on Tuesday it was a “collective retaliatory strike” on facilities used to manufacture drones used in attacks against Russia.
On Tuesday, the Kremlin issued threats against Kiev, which is trying to continue food shipments through the Black Sea, with its spokesman, Dmitry S. Peskov: “Certain risks appear there without proper security guarantees.”
Serhiy Popko, the head of the city’s military administration, said Russia also launched a wave of drones on Wednesday in the capital Kiev, but the city’s air defenses destroyed all of them.
Russia’s success in striking critical infrastructure in the ports around Odessa reflected the difficulties Ukraine faces in trying to protect cities while protecting critical infrastructure, military equipment, and concentrations of forces.
“We can cover the ports of Odessa in the Kiev region, Dnipro and Lviv,” Yuriy Ihnat, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Air Force, said in an appearance on Ukrainian television. “But we cannot prevent all directions from which missiles fly into Ukraine.”
The concentrated attacks on Odessa posed a particular challenge for Ukraine given the types of missiles Russia has deployed and the tactics it uses to evade air defences. Mr. Ehnat said the Russians fired Kh-22 cruise missiles on a ballistic trajectory, which makes them extremely fast and difficult to shoot down, especially when fired from relatively close range. At the same time, he said, drones have been used in large numbers in an effort to deplete air defense systems, making it difficult to track more powerful missiles.
“Travel specialist. Typical social media scholar. Friend of animals everywhere. Freelance zombie ninja. Twitter buff.”