Ukraine accused Russia on Wednesday of deliberately striking its Black Sea grain facilities -- and destroying tonnes of food -- since Moscow quit an export deal meant to stave off a global crisis.

Kyiv’s allegations came as a fire of unclear origin broke out at a military site in Russian-annexed Crimea, prompting local officials to call for the evacuation of thousands of civilians.

Military sites on the peninsula, a key supply artery for Russia’s war in Ukraine, have been hit repeatedly in recent months.

Russia, for its part, fired strikes at Ukraine’s Odesa for the second night in a row, with the defence ministry claiming to have struck fuel and ammunition facilities near the Black Sea port.

But Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky claimed Russia was taking aim at the very basis of the now-lapsed grain deal, which was brokered last by the UN and Turkey amid fears of food shortages in vulnerable nations.

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“Russian terrorists deliberately targeted the grain deal infrastructure, and every Russian missile is a blow not only to Ukraine, but to everyone in the world who wants a normal and safe life,” Zelensky said on social media.

Ports in Odesa were key transit hubs for the export of grain from Ukraine until Moscow said earlier this week it would withdraw from the deal giving safe passage to cargo ships in the Black Sea.

Kyiv claimed Russia had destroyed 60,000 tonnes of grain meant for export in overnight strikes around Odesa after accusing Moscow of purposefully hitting grain terminals.

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Ukraine’s agriculture ministry said the grain was meant to be “sent through the grain corridor 60 days ago.”

- Civilian evacuation -

Following the fire early Wednesday at the Crimea military site, Russian officials called for the evacuation of 2,000 people from the area.

“The temporary evacuation of residents of four localities adjacent to the military field in the Kirovsky district is planned,” said the Moscow-installed head of Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov.

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Authorities did not specify the cause of the fire, but some Russian media reported that detonations were heard in the area and footage showed columns of black smoke in the sky.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was briefed on the incident, the Kremlin said.

“We know that there was a fire there. Emergency measures are being taken, the situation is being clarified,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

A section of the Tavrida highway that crosses the peninsula from Kerch to Sevastopol was closed due to the fire, Russia’s TASS news agency reported.

Russia has kept up its aerial bombardment of Ukraine, but Kyiv’s defences have steadily improved.

Ukraine’s airforce said it had shot down 13 cruise missiles fired by Russian forces overnight and 23 Iranian-made attack drones launched by Moscow.

As a result of the strikes, “10 civilians were injured, including a nine-year-old boy”, the Office of the Prosecutor General said in a statement.

One civilian was injured in a strike on an “industrial facility” in Odesa, according to the head of the local military administration, Oleg Kiper, while another three were hurt after an X-59 missile slammed into a city neighbourhood, having been shot down.

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- Bridge strike -

Russia claimed to have advanced one kilometre (less than one mile) in the past day along the front line in Ukraine’s northeastern region of Kharkiv.

The Russian army already said Tuesday it had carried out a “retaliation strike” against sites in Odesa after an attack on the sole bridge linking annexed Crimea to mainland Russia.

Ukrainian forces carried out the assault on the Kerch bridge using seaborne drones, a security service source told AFP.

The day of the attack, Moscow withdrew from the grain deal, accusing Kyiv of using the Black Sea grain corridor for “combat purposes”.

The Kremlin also issued a veiled warning over the “risks” to ships that might continue with grain exports from Ukraine.

Were a new arrangement to allow for exports “formalised without Russia, then these risks should be taken into account”, Peskov said.

Russia said Tuesday it would lift “safe navigation guarantees” for cargo ship in the Black Sea and signalled it would disband the grain deal’s coordination centre in Istanbul.

 

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