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Russia attacks Odessa port, in latest assault on Ukrainian grain

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DNIPRO, Ukraine — Russia launched drones and missiles at the Black Sea port of Odessa in an overnight attack on Monday, killing two people, Ukrainian officials said — the latest assault on Ukraine’s vital agriculture sector as Moscow seeks to exploit divisions between Kyiv and its European neighbors over grain exports.

Granaries were destroyed by cruise missiles and Odessa’s port was “significantly damaged,” according to Ukraine’s southern command, which said part of the attack was carried out by Russian warships. Rescue workers discovered at least two people dead in the rubble, regional governor Oleh Kiper said, describing them as workers at a grain warehouse.

The strikes and falling debris shattered windows and ignited several fires, including at a home and warehouse buildings, officials said. The Ukrainian command claimed its air defense intercepted the majority of the threats, including all 19 of the Iranian-designed drones involved.

A spokesperson for Ukraine’s infrastructure ministry declined to provide an estimate of how much grain was lost in Monday’s attack. Ukraine exported about 20 million metric tons a year before the war.

Firefighters worked in the early morning hours to extinguish a blaze at the 18-story Hotel Odessa, a skyline mainstay that has been empty for years while awaiting refurbishment. Stavnitser Andre, an investor, said on Facebook that the hotel, with its signature blue windows, was a “monument to carelessness and tastelessness,” but he had found partners to help revitalize it. “We will rebuild it all,” he wrote.

The strike follows months of attacks by Russia targeting Ukraine’s grain industry, a crucial part of its economy that is already stressed by regional tensions. The attacks increased as the summer harvest season ended and farmers turned to shipping the grain around the world, where it is desperately needed by developing countries facing food shortages.

Ukraine’s grain at center stage in battle for votes in Poland’s election

Disruptions in the Black Sea have forced Ukraine to explore overland routes, but Kyiv has faced resistance from some of its closest neighbors. Officials in Poland, Hungary and Slovakia fear that relatively cheap Ukrainian grain would flood their markets, drive down prices and hurt local farmers.

Poland, an important defense partner, said last week it would stop providing new weapons to Kyiv as the grain feud flared, but then said it would assist Ukraine in transporting the grain to poorer nations. Slovakia and Ukraine agreed to a grain-trading deal aimed at breaking the impasse.

The diplomatic battle has been observed with apparent satisfaction in Moscow. “We realize that friction will also grow between Kyiv and other European capitals; it is inevitable,” Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said last week.

Ukraine hits headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol

Over the summer, Russia unilaterally terminated a United Nations-sponsored agreement that had assured safe passage for cargo ships in the Black Sea.

The skies over the Black Sea have become increasingly congested with drones and missiles launched from both sides, and in some places, the waters are filled with mines.

Kyiv has escalated attacks on occupied Crimea, the peninsula illegally invaded and annexed by Russia in 2014, including a bold missile strike Friday on the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol.

Ukraine’s special operations forces said Monday they now believe the strike killed the fleet commander, Adm. Viktor Sokolov, along with scores of officers. The Washington Post could not verify that claim, and there has been no comment from Moscow.

“Our information system is still silent and is pushing millions of our people into the arms of information networks hostile to Russia,” pro-Kremlin analyst Sergei Markov said on Telegram Monday. “We are all waiting for simple and clear information about the commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet.”

Ukrainian operations have also targeted Russian airfields and a dry dock in Sevastopol. That attack, earlier this month, damaged a submarine and a landing ship. Losses were high among the landing ship’s crew because it was being readied for departure the next day, according to Ukraine’s special forces.

Meanwhile, the first batch of U.S.-provided M1 Abrams tanks has arrived in Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky said Monday — nine months after President Biden reversed course by committing to send 31 of the advanced battle tanks.

U.S. military officials have said the deliveries would be gradual but that they expected all the tanks to arrive in the coming weeks

“I am grateful to the allies for fulfilling the agreements,” Zelensky said. In March, the Pentagon said it would send the tanks by the fall, after facing scrutiny for initially projecting it could take a year or two to get the weapons to the battlefield.

Less than half the number of expected M1 Abrams tanks have arrived so far, a senior Ukrainian military official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive military preparations.

The tanks could be used in Ukraine’s counteroffensive in the south, where progress has been slow and has come at a heavy cost. Officials in Kyiv have said the operation will continue despite the coming rainy season, followed by the bitter winter cold.

Isabelle Khurshudyan in Dnipro, Kostiantyn Khudov in Kyiv and Robyn Dixon in Riga contributed to this report.

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