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Concerns rise as Russia resumes grain blockade of Ukraine

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Traces of shrapnel from the Russian rockets cover a multi storey house in central Slavyansk, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

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Kyiv, Ukraine — Russia resumed its blockade of Ukrainian ports on Sunday, cutting off urgently needed grain exports to starving parts of the world in what US President Joe Biden called a “truly outrageous” act.

Biden has warned that world hunger could rise due to Russia’s suspension of a UN-brokered deal to allow safe passage for ships carrying grain from Ukraine, one of the granaries of the world.

“It’s really outrageous,” Biden said Saturday in Wilmington, Delaware. “There is no merit in what they are doing. The UN brokered this deal and that should be the end of it.

Biden spoke hours after Russia announced it would immediately end its participation in the grain deal, alleging Ukraine staged a drone attack on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet on Saturday. off the coast of occupied Crimea. Ukraine has denied the attack, saying Russia mismanaged its own weapons.

Ukraine’s Infrastructure Ministry announced on Sunday that 218 vessels involved in grain exports had been blocked – 22 loaded and blocked in ports, 95 loaded and left ports and 101 awaiting inspections.

One of the stranded ships, carrying 40,000 tonnes of wheat for Ethiopia as part of a UN aid package, was unable to leave Ukraine on Sunday due to the ‘blockage of the grain corridor ” by Russia, Oleksandr Kubrakov, Ukrainian Minister of Infrastructure, said on Twitter. The ship, Ikaria Angel, was stuck in the Black Sea port of Chornomorsk.

The Istanbul-based UN center that coordinates ship crossings later said the Ikaria Angel was among six ships that had started exiting but had not yet entered a humanitarian corridor. The center said it intended to move and inspect other vessels on Monday, but it was unclear whether Russia would agree.

The grain initiative – an example of rare wartime cooperation between Ukraine and Russia – has seen more than 9 million tonnes of grain in 397 ships safely leave Ukrainian ports since it was signed in July. UN chief António Guterres on Friday urged Russia and Ukraine to renew the agreement when it expires on November 19. The grain deal has lowered global food prices by around 15% from their peak in March, according to the UN.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskky expressed outrage at Russia’s decision. Referring to the Ikaria Angel, he said in his nightly video address on Sunday: “This bulk carrier carrying wheat for the United Nations food program and other ships carrying agricultural products are forced to wait, because Russia is doing sing the world with hunger”.

Two moves to revive the grain deal were reported on Sunday.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar was in talks with his counterparts to “resolve the issue and continue the grain initiative”, his agency said, adding that no more grain ships would leave Ukraine but those who already waiting near Istanbul would be inspected on Sunday or Monday. .

At the United Nations in New York, Guterres delayed a day trip to start talks aimed at ending Russia’s suspension of the grain export deal. Russia has also requested a meeting of the UN Security Council on Monday to discuss the matter.

Analysts say Russia’s withdrawal shows it sees the grain deal as another way to put pressure on Ukraine.

“By leaving the deal now and blaming Ukraine, it aims to slow Ukrainian attacks around the Black Sea,” said Economist Intelligence Unit analyst Mario Bikarski. Russia might be hoping that Ukraine’s Western allies might ask it to concentrate its forces elsewhere to salvage the grain deal, he said.

More conflicting details emerged on Sunday about the alleged attack on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.

The city council of Mariupol, a Ukrainian port now controlled by Russia, claimed on Telegram that Ukrainian special services had destroyed at least three Russian warships near the city of Sevastopol in the Crimean peninsula annexed by Russia.

But an adviser to Ukraine’s Interior Ministry claimed the Russians’ “careless handling of explosives” caused explosions on four Russian warships. Anton Gerashchenko wrote on Telegram that the ships included a frigate, a landing craft and a ship carrying cruise missiles.

Reports have surfaced for months of Ukrainian sabotage of Russian warplanes and ammunition depots in Crimea and Zelenskky has repeatedly vowed to retake the strategic Black Sea peninsula Russia annexed in 2014.

The Russian Defense Ministry said on Sunday that a Ukrainian drone that allegedly attacked Sevastopol appeared to come from a civilian ship carrying agricultural products from Ukraine. The ministry said an inspection of the wreckage showed the drones used Canadian-made navigation and their launch point was the Ukrainian coast near the port of Odessa.

Independent verification of each party’s claims has not been possible.

Ukraine appears to have targeted the Black Sea Fleet and other Russian military infrastructure in Crimea – far from the front lines but a key launching pad for attacks on Ukraine – since the spring, despite not often does not confirm its responsibility.

On the front line, Russian missile attacks continued to hit key frontline hotspots in Ukraine. The Russians have shelled seven Ukrainian regions in the past 24 hours, killing at least five civilians and wounding nine others, the Ukrainian presidential office said.

In the eastern region of Donetsk, where fighting continues near the towns of Bakhmut and Avdiivka, eight towns and villages were shelled.

In areas that Ukraine has taken over, residents are still recovering the bodies of killed civilians, Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said.

“In the past 24 hours alone, in three unoccupied towns and villages, we have found abandoned bodies of Ukrainian civilians,” Kyrylenko said.

Ukrainian Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskiy said on Sunday that Russian forces were mining the territories they left behind twice as densely as during the first months of the war.

Power outages were reported on Sunday in the occupied Ukrainian town of Enerhodar, home to the closed Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe. Ukrainian and Russian officials traded blame for the bombings that caused the blackout.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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