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Russia Issues New Safety Warnings for Ships Bound for Ukrainian Ports

FILE - The first U.N.-chartered vessel MV Brave Commander loads more than 23,000 tonnes of grain to export to Ethiopia, in Yuzhne, east of Odessa on the Black Sea coast, on August 14, 2022.

Russia’s defense ministry has issued new safety warnings to vessels bound for Ukrainian ports, two days after canceling an agreement that allowed ships carrying Ukrainian grain to pass through the Black Sea.

The statement issued on the Telegram social media channel said that starting at midnight Moscow time on July 20, “All vessels sailing in the waters of the Black Sea to Ukrainian ports will be regarded as potential carriers of military cargo.”It added, “Countries of such vessels will be considered to be involved in the Ukrainian conflict on the side of the Kyiv regime.”

The statement said a number of areas in the Black Sea have been “declared temporarily dangerous for navigation,” and that Russia has issued “warnings on the withdrawal of safety guarantees to mariners.”

The Black Sea Grain Initiative, a deal brokered last year by the United Nations and Turkey, lifted a Russian blockade on Ukrainian ports that Russia imposed after its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Russia announced Monday it would not renew the deal, which is credited with easing food shortages and inflation in many countries that depend on Ukrainian grain to feed their populations.

Earlier Wednesday, Ukrainian officials said that Russian forces carried out airstrikes on the Odesa region in southern Ukraine for a second consecutive night while also targeting the capital, Kyiv, and other areas.

Ukraine’s air force said the military downed 37 of 63 missiles and drones that Russia launched across the country, and that the main targets were infrastructure and military facilities in the Odesa area.

Odesa’s ports were used to export grain under the now-expired grain initiative.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Wednesday that Russia’s latest attack “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.”

Serhii Popko, the head of Kyiv’s city military administration, said on Telegram that air defenses intercepted all of the drones that targeted Kyiv and that there were no immediate reports of damage.

“A difficult night of air attacks for all of Ukraine,” Popko said.

After the first night of aerial attacks, which hit Odesa and nearby Mykolaiv, Russia said Tuesday it was acting in retaliation for an attack Monday that damaged a key bridge Russia used to supply its military in the Crimean Peninsula.

Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 in a move not recognized by the international community.

Russia-installed authorities there said Wednesday more than 2,000 people were being evacuated after a fire broke out at a military training ground in the Kirovsky district. Officials did not specify the cause of the fire.

Ukrainian counteroffensive

In Washington Wednesday, the U.S. Defense Department announced a new $1.3 billion security package for Ukraine.

VOA national security correspondent Jeff Seldin reports the package includes four advanced surface-to-air missile systems along with mine-clearing equipment and artillery rounds.

Russia has laid dense and complex minefields as part of efforts to defend territory it captured from Ukraine in the early stages of the war.

So far, war analysts say Ukraine has retaken about 250 square kilometers of territory since launching a counteroffensive in early June, but that Russia has maintained control of large expanses of land.

Some information came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.