Russia fired swarms of drones at Ukrainian grain and port facilities before dawn on Monday, the second large-scale drone assault in the past 48 hours in the southern Odesa region, aimed at the Ukrainian side of the Danube River.
The latest assault lasted more than three hours, Ukrainian officials said, adding that they shot down 17 drones targeting the Izmail district, the site of a key river port, but that some evaded air defenses. It came hours before President Vladimir V. Putin and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, were expected to discuss how to restart shipping agricultural products across the Black Sea.
“Warehouses and production buildings, agricultural machinery and equipment of industrial enterprises were damaged,” the head of the Odesa regional military administration, Oleg Kiper, said in a statement. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
Emergency crews were still dealing with the destruction caused by a wave of attacks before dawn on Sunday, which the Ukrainian military said featured more than two dozen drones and injured at least two civilians.
Since pulling out of the Black Sea grain accord, which had allowed Ukraine to ship its agricultural products via the waterway, Russia has stepped up attacks on Ukrainian port facilities on the Black Sea as well as on the Danube, determined to keep its stranglehold on the Ukrainian economy. In mid-August, granaries and warehouses in Izmail and Reni, another port on the river, were damaged in Russian attacks.
The ports lie on the lower Danube, where it forms part of Ukraine’s border with Romania before emptying into the Black Sea. The recent attacks have come perilously close to Romania, a NATO member, raising fears that an errant Russian drone or missile flying a short distance off course could risk dragging the United States and its allies into a direct military confrontation with Moscow.
On Monday, a spokesman for Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on social media that Russian drones had fallen on Romanian territory — a claim that Romania quickly rejected. In a statement, Romania’s defense ministry said that it “categorically denies” the reports and that “at no time” was there a “direct” threat to its territory or territorial waters.
Ukrainian officials have been working to convince shipping companies and international partners that shipping from the Black Sea ports in Odesa can resume without any Russian agreement.
In an attempt to get exports of grain and other goods moving again, Kyiv established a temporary corridor past the mines Ukraine has deployed along the coast, allowing ships to reach the territorial waters of Romania and then Bulgaria and Turkey, all NATO members. That has begun to allow civilian ships that have been stuck in Ukrainian ports since before Russia’s full-scale invasion to finally depart the country.
— Marc Santora reporting from Odesa, Ukraine
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