Russia has bombarded the Black Sea port city of Odessa for a second straight night after Moscow refused to extend the vital grain deal with Kiev.
Early on Wednesday, Russian drones struck and missiles hit Odessa, Ukraine's third most populous city, setting off loud and prolonged explosions.
Ukrainian officials claimed the overnight attack purportedly targeted grain terminals and other critical infrastructure Ukraine needs to ship food to the world. Odessa is one of the main ports for exporting grain in the ex-Soviet republic.
Ukraine's air force says it was one of the largest sustained aerial aggressions against the port city.
Russia did not extend the grain deal that allowed Ukrainian grain to be exported. The agreement last came up for extension on May 18 and Russia agreed at that point to extend it for 60 more days.
On Monday, however, Moscow announced its withdrawal from the deal, which came with a separate agreement to facilitate shipments of Russian food and fertilizer. Moscow says no facilitation under that agreement has yet taken place. The Kremlin had initially threatened to abandon the deal if its concerns were not addressed.
The deal is officially known as the Black Sea Grain Initiative. It was brokered by Turkey and the United Nations on July 22, 2022 and has since, according to the Joint Coordination Center in Istanbul, allowed three Ukrainian ports to export some 32.9 million metric tons of grain and other food to the world, over half of that to developing countries.
Russia's Foreign Ministry also said despite UN efforts to extend the deal, obstacles to Russian food and fertilizer exports remained. "Only upon receipt of concrete results, and not promises and assurances, will Russia be ready to consider restoring the deal."
President Volodymyr Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials claimed the overnight aerial attack was part of Russia's push to resume its de facto blockade of the Black Sea as Moscow is no longer a party to the deal.
A day earlier, Russia struck the city with missiles in what Moscow said was retribution for an attack on a vital bridge to the Crimean Peninsula.
'Wagner group relocates to Belarus'
Separately on Wednesday, Yevgeny Prigozhin, chief of the Wagner paramilitary group, said his forces had relocated to Belarus “for some time” before leaving to fight in Africa.
He said the group might later rejoin Russia’s military operation in Ukraine.
Prigozhin launched a short-lived mutiny against Moscow last month. Not long afterward, he abandoned what he called a “march for justice” on Moscow by thousands of recruits in exchange for safe passage to exile in Belarus. Criminal charges against Prigozhin were also dropped as part of the agreement.
"What’s happening on the front is a disgrace that we don’t need to take part in. We need to wait for the moment when we can show what we’re worth in full,” Prigozhin said. "So a decision has been taken that we will be here in Belarus for some time."
Last week, Russia said Wagner had handed over a considerably large amount of weaponry and ammunition to the army. Moscow plans to bring Wagner under its control.