Another global food emergency was looming after Russia blitzed Ukrainian ports with air raids and sea mines in an attempt to cut off grain exports.
At least two people were killed and more than 20 injured as Moscow kept up the onslaught after it pulled out of a deal to guarantee a safe passage for food.
The Kremlin announced that ships heading into Black Sea docks would be considered legitimate military targets as it packed the approaches with mines.
Food industry experts warned of more price rises and shortages after wheat costs soared in the days after Russia abandoned the grain deal.
Vladimir Putin said he would reinstate the agreement if the West lifted sanctions on Russian grain and fertiliser, and readmitted its agricultural bank into world finance.
READ MORE: ‘Barbaric’ Putin attacks port just after grain deal, Zelensky claims
The new blockade of key ports saw a third day of destruction yesterday with the two biggest – Odesa and Mykolaiv – bearing the brunt of air raids.
In Odesa, two people were killed, several others were injured and buildings including the Chinese consulate were damaged in the bombardment. One of those who died was a 21-year-old security guard while the other was found buried during a search of rubble from battered structures.
Oleh Kiper, the regional governor, said: “It shows the enemy does not pay attention to anything. The aggressor is deliberately hitting the port infrastructure – administrative and residential buildings.”
He added that Ukraine shot down 12 Iranian-made Shahed drones and two Kalibr missiles but was unable to repel incoming X-22 and Onyx missiles.
Just 24 hours earlier, drones and missiles damaged critical port infrastructure and destroyed at least 60,000 tons of grain.
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In Mykolaiv, regional governor Vitaliy Kim said 19 people, including a child, were injured during strikes that destroyed a building and sparked a blaze.
Meanwhile, in the north-eastern region of Kharkiv, authorities said a 61-year-old man was killed by Russian shelling yesterday. In annexed Crimea, Russian-backed officials said a teenage girl was killed in a Ukrainian drone strike on the Black Sea peninsula.
Moscow’s defence ministry declared waters around the coastal ports “temporarily dangerous” for ships that are “potential carriers of military cargo”. Ukraine’s foreign ministry said the actions “grossly violate Russia’s obligations under international law” to countries using the sea route.
Adam Hodge, White House National Security Council spokesman, said: “Our information indicates that Russia laid additional sea mines in the approaches to Ukrainian ports.
“We believe this is a co-ordinated effort to justify any attacks against civilian ships in the Black Sea and lay blame on Ukraine.”
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President Volodymyr Zelensky said: “Russian terrorists continue their attempts to destroy the life of our country.
“Together we will make it through this terrible time. We will withstand the attacks of Russian evil.”
He accused Putin of deliberately targeting grain export infrastructure and putting vulnerable countries at risk.
Ukrainian MP Oleksiy Goncharenko called on Britain, America, France and Turkey to protect grain ships with military convoys and air defences around Odesa.
“Clearly Putin has an aim to disrupt food security and cause a peak in world food prices, which in developed countries will lead to inflation,” he said. “In developing countries that will lead to social de-stabilisation, starvation and new waves of migrants.”
The year-old grain deal enabled the UN to ship more than 725,000 tons of wheat from Ukraine, which claims it went mostly to poor countries – but Russia disputes this.
After Russia’s withdrawal, wheat prices on the European stock exchange soared by 8.2 per cent on Wednesday to £220 a ton. Charlie Sernatinger, an analyst with Marex Capital, said the ominous developments could “cut all of the waterborne grain shipments off from the Black Sea, both Russian and Ukrainian”.
Carlos Mera, head of agricultural commodities markets at Rabobank, said wheat prices began rising before the grain deal collapse and were 17 per cent higher yesterday.
“There is a vast list of under-developed countries that depend on Ukrainian and Russian wheat,” he said. In Brussels, EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said: “More than 60,000 tons of grain has been burned. Not only do they withdraw from the grain agreement but they are burning the grain.”
German foreign affairs minister Annalena Baerbock said: “The fact that the Russian president has cancelled the grain agreement and is now bombing Odesa is not only another attack on Ukraine, but an attack on the poorest people in the world.”
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