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The civilian toll is rising in Odesa, the Ukrainian port city that has been under relentless attack by Russian forces in the past week after the Kremlin pulled out of an agreement that allowed for the export of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea.
One person died and 22 others, including four children, were injured in Russian missile strikes on Odesa overnight Sunday, according to Ukrainian officials. At least six residential buildings were damaged, as was an Orthodox cathedral where rescuers pulled an icon devoted to the patron saint of the city out of the rubble.
At least 25 historic landmarks were damaged, Ukrainska Pravda reported.
“There can be no excuse for Russian evil,” President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said about the attacks in a Telegram posting on Sunday, adding: “There will definitely be a retaliation.”
With its busy port, Odesa has long been a crucial economic link for Ukraine to the rest of the global economy. Even though the city had been subject to attacks earlier in the war, there had been a fleeting sense of normalcy because for almost a year it had been shipping out agricultural products despite a wartime blockade by Russia.
But that ended last week, after Russia said it was ending its participation in the Black Sea grain deal, an agreement that had helped stabilize food prices across the globe. Moscow has said the pact favored Ukraine.
In recent days, Russia has launched some of the war’s most furious attacks on Odesa, destroying grain that could have fed tens of thousands of people for a year. The strikes have also killed at least one other civilian and injured at least two others. The Kremlin has threatened more hostilities, saying it will treat any ships sailing around Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea as military targets.
The cathedral is Odesa’s largest Orthodox one and has remained aligned with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is backed by Moscow, despite the move by many parishes in Ukraine to join a branch that is loyal to Kyiv in the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion last year.
Founded in 1794, the building, also known as Transfiguration Cathedral, became the most important church in Novorossiya, the name given by the Russian Empire to land along the Black Sea and Crimea that is part of present-day Ukraine. It was destroyed during a Soviet campaign against religion in 1936 and was not rebuilt until after the fall of the Soviet Union.
In 2010, Patriarch Kirill, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, consecrated the newly rebuilt cathedral, a sign of the close ties between the church and Moscow. Twelve years later, after Moscow launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Kirill “blessed” the war effort and said that Russians who fought in Ukraine would have their sins “washed away.”
There was no immediate comment from the patriarch or the Kremlin on the damage to the cathedral on Sunday.
The Russian Ministry of Defense said it had targeted military infrastructure in Odesa and blamed the damage to the cathedral on “actions” by Ukrainian air defense teams, saying in a post on the Telegram app that “the most likely cause of its destruction was the fall of a Ukrainian antiaircraft guided missile.”
On Saturday, Mr. Zelensky warned of the dire fallout of Russian actions in the Black Sea.
“Any destabilization in this region and the disruption of our export routes will mean problems with corresponding consequences for everyone in the world,” he said in his nightly address. Food prices could surge, he said.
The grain deal, brokered by the United Nations and Turkey about a year ago, helped stabilize food prices across the globe. But now, Russia’s withdrawal from the agreement could again threaten food security in several countries already reeling from multiple crises, especially in the Horn of Africa.
Mr. Zelensky is pushing for more aid from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Following a meeting Saturday with the alliance’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, Mr. Zelensky said that the Ukraine-NATO Council, a new body that hopes to deepen the alliance between Ukraine and its allies, would soon hold a meeting about the situation in Odesa and the Black Sea.
Also on Sunday, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said that Ukraine’s counteroffensive, launched last month to reclaim territory in the south and east of the country, “has failed.” The Russian leader’s comments were reported by Tass, the state news agency, after he met with President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus in St. Petersburg. It was one of the first public meetings between the two leaders since Mr. Lukashenko negotiated an end to last month’s brief mutiny by Russia’s Wagner mercenary group.
Ivan Nechepurenko and Matthew Mpoke Bigg contributed reporting.
Posted on 23 Jul 2023 17:21 link