Grain ships sail despite Moscow’s withdrawal from deal; missile rain on Ukraine

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KYIV – Twelve ships carrying grain left Ukrainian ports on Monday despite Russia abandoning a UN-backed deal to guarantee exports from the war zone, suggesting that Moscow had not reimposed a blockade that could have caused world hunger.

Air raid sirens sounded across Ukraine and explosions sounded in Kyiv as Russia rained down missiles in fresh airstrikes. Ukrainian officials said energy infrastructure had been affected, cutting off electricity and water supplies in several areas.

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But the resumption of food exports from Ukrainian ports suggested that at least one doomsday scenario had been averted for now. International officials feared Moscow could reimpose a blockade on Ukrainian grain, after Russia announced on Saturday it was withdrawing from the UN-backed program that escorts cargo ships through the Black Sea.

“Civilian freighters can never be a military target or taken hostage. Food must flow,” tweeted Amir Abdullah, the UN official coordinating the program.

Shortly after, Ukraine confirmed that 12 ships had sailed. The 354,500 tonnes of grain they were transporting was far more than was usually the case in a single day, suggesting a backlog was being cleared after the halt in exports on Sunday.

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HUNGER

Both Ukraine and Russia are among the world’s largest food exporters. For three months, the UN-backed deal ensured Ukrainian exports could reach markets, preventing what international officials said could have been a global famine.

News that Moscow was pulling out of the deal sent global wheat prices up more than 5% on Monday morning.

Moscow said it was forced out of the transport deal after accusing Kyiv of being responsible for explosions that damaged Russian navy ships at a Crimean port on Saturday.

Ukraine has neither confirmed nor denied being the source of the explosions, but says the Russian Navy is a legitimate military target. Moscow said the blasts were caused by a fleet of sea and air drones.

The United States has accused Russia of using food as a weapon and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said Moscow is “blackmailing the world with hunger”. Russia has denied the charges, but said with its damaged naval forces it was no longer able to guarantee safe navigation.

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The ships that sailed on Monday included one contracted by the United Nations World Food Program to bring 40,000 tons of grain to drought-stricken Africa.

“Even if Russia behaves hesitantly because it has not received the same benefits, we will resolutely continue our efforts to serve humanity,” said Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who contributed to the mediation of the grain agreement.

“Our effort to deliver this wheat to countries threatened by famine is obvious. With the joint mechanism we established in Istanbul, we have contributed to alleviating a global food crisis,” he said.

MISSILE TRAPS

Russia’s missile strikes during the Monday morning rush hour repeated a tactic it has continued this month by targeting Ukrainian civilian infrastructure, particularly power plants.

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Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said 18 targets, mostly energy infrastructure, were hit by missile and drone strikes on 10 Ukrainian regions.

“Another batch of Russian missiles hits critical infrastructure in Ukraine. Instead of fighting on the battlefield, Russia is fighting civilians,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said.

“Don’t justify these attacks by calling them a ‘response’. Russia does it because it still has the missiles and the will to kill the Ukrainians.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said the missiles caused power and water cuts.

“Russia is not interested in peace talks or global food security. Putin’s only goal is death and destruction,” he said.

There was no immediate response from Moscow.

US Ambassador to Kyiv, Bridget Brink, tweeted: “Like millions of Ukrainians, our @USEmbassyKyiv team is once again taking cover as Russia continues its ruthless and barbaric missile strikes on the Ukrainian people in a bid to leave the country cold and gloomy as winter approaches (Reporting by Reuters offices; Writing by Michael Perry and Peter Graff Editing by Gareth Jones)

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