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Two merchant ships have docked in a Ukrainian port as Kiev steps up efforts to unilaterally break Russia’s blockade of its Black Sea coast.
The two incoming vessels docked in Chornomorsk hours before Russia launched its latest barrage of nighttime missile and drone strikes over Ukraine. The goal was once again agricultural infrastructure in the southern Odesa region.
Russia also reported on Sunday night raids by Ukrainian drones on Crimea, Moscow and other regions.
“The first civilian ships used the temporary corridor in the direction of Ukrainian ports. . . to load almost 20,000 tons of wheat for African and Asian countries,” said Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov.
The Palau-flagged bulk carriers, called Resilient Africa and Aroyat, are the first to arrive at Ukrainian ports after Russia pulled out of a UN-brokered deal in July that allowed the export of more than 33 million tons of grain from Ukraine.
Kiev this summer announced a corridor hugging the Black Sea coast of its southern neighbors and NATO members Romania and Bulgaria for ships stuck in Ukrainian ports after Russia launched its large-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Three vessels carrying food and two loaded with metallurgical products have left Ukrainian ports since the Kyiv military opened the corridor, as Russia continues to resist international pressure to rejoin a grain export deal.
Ukraine currently exports most of its grain by truck and rail via land routes to EU countries, but these routes carry additional costs that hurt Kyiv’s competitiveness. It also continues to transport grain from ports on the Danube River, which face regular missile attacks by Russian forces.
Attempts by Russia to choke off grain and other food supplies from Ukraine, a major exporter, have rattled markets and raised prices for the developing world.
Ukraine, armed with NATO-level air defense systems and long-range missiles provided by its Western allies, has increasingly attacked Russia’s Black Sea fleet based in Crimea, a peninsula it illegally annexed in 2014. Last week it destroyed a Russian navy vessel and damaged a submarine docked for repairs in Sevastopol, the largest port on the peninsula.
Neutralizing Russia’s use of the peninsula as a military area is considered by Kyiv officials to be the key to breaking the Black Sea blockade and supporting a military counter-offensive. Russia still occupies about 18 percent of Ukraine’s territory in its southern and eastern regions.
Although ships using Ukraine’s Black Sea ports face significant risks, Kiev says it can protect the shipping corridor by undermining Russia’s ability to police the northwestern corner of the Black Sea.
Russian strikes on Sunday damaged land and a grain warehouse in Berezivka, 90 km north of the provincial capital Odesa, said Oleg Kiper, the region’s governor.
The strikes also hit the northeastern city of Kharkiv and targets in the Dnepropetrovsk region.
Mykola Oleschuk, commander of the Ukrainian Air Force, sent a video on Telegram showing a Ukrainian air defense system intercepting an incoming missile near Odessa early Sunday morning, with the explosion resembling fireworks.
“Our favorite city can sleep in peace!” he wrote