Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has urged the international community to take immediate steps to end a Russian blockade of his country’s ports in order to allow wheat shipments and prevent a global food crisis.
After the Black Sea port of Odesa was struck by missiles on Monday, Zelenskiy said: “For the first time in decades there is no usual movement of the merchant fleet, no usual port functioning in Odesa. Probably this has never happened in Odesa since world war two.
“Without our agricultural exports, dozens of countries in different parts of the world are already on the brink of food shortages. And over time, the situation can become downright terrible … This is a direct consequence of Russian aggression, which can be overcome only together – by all Europeans, by the whole free world.”
One person was killed and five injured when seven missiles hit a shopping centre and a depot in Odesa, Ukraine’s armed forces said. Air raid sirens sounded as the missiles interrupted a meeting between Charles Michel, president of the European Council, and the Ukrainian prime minister, Denys Shmyhal, forcing them into a bomb shelter.
Michel said he saw silos full of grain, wheat and corn unable to be exported. “This badly needed food is stranded because of the Russian war and blockade of Black Sea ports, causing dramatic consequences for vulnerable countries,” he said. “We need a global response.”
There was no let-up in fighting elsewhere, with Russian strikes on targets in the east and south and a renewed push by Kremlin’s forces to defeat the last Ukrainian troops holding out in a steelworks in ruined Mariupol.
At least 100 civilians remained trapped in the plant, which remained under heavy Russian fire, an aide to the Mariupol mayor said on Tuesday. Full control of the city would allow Moscow to create a land bridge between the Crimean peninsula, which it annexed in 2014, and eastern regions run by pro-Russian separatists.
Air raid sirens could be heard across several regions of Ukraine early on Tuesday, including in Luhansk, Kharkiv and Dnipro. The governor of Luhansk reported “very serious battles” in the frontline areas of Bilogorivka and Rubizhne. In the town of Bogodukhov, north-west of Kharkiv, four people were killed and several homes were destroyed in Russian attacks on Monday, local media quoted Kharkiv officials as saying.
In the US, congressional Democrats have reportedly agreed to provide as soon as Tuesday a further $39.8bn in additional aid for Ukraine, exceeding president Joe Biden’s request last month for $33bn including more than $20bn in military assistance. Senate leaders were prepared to move quickly to enact the proposal, reports said, which includes an additional $3.4bn for military aid and $3.4bn in humanitarian aid.
Biden said: “This aid has been critical to Ukraine’s success on the battlefield. We cannot allow our shipments of assistance to stop while we await further congressional action.
A bill that Biden signed into law on Monday allows quicker supply of military equipment to Ukraine. Before signing the bill, the US president said “Putin’s war” was “once more bringing wanton destruction of Europe”, drawing reference to the significance of Victory Day.
“It really matters,” Biden said of the bipartisan support for Ukraine. One of the bill’s chief Republican sponsors, Senator John Cornyn of Texas, said: “I’m glad America could act as the arsenal of democracy for this critical partner.”
On Monday, Vladimir Putin used Victory in Europe Day – the anniversary of Germany’s unconditional surrender in 1945, and Russia’s biggest patriotic holiday – to rally his people behind the invasion. The White House dismissed the Russian president’s speech as “revisionist history” and said his suggestion that western aggression led to the Ukraine war was “patently absurd”.
In another attempt to pile pressure on Russia, the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, said she had made “progress” on a proposed Russian oil embargo during talks with the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, one of Putin’s closest allies in Europe, who has held up EU attempts to phase out Russian oil.
In other developments:
The US cited “anecdotal reports” that some Russian troops in Ukraine were not obeying orders. It said “mid-grade officers at various levels, even up to the battalion level” were refusing to move forward in the Donbas offensive.
The UN human rights council is due to hold a special session on Thursday to address alleged Russian human rights violations during its war in Ukraine. More than 50 countries, including Britain, Germany, Turkey and the US, backed a request by Ukraine and demanded an extraordinary meeting of the UN’s top rights body.
With Reuters, AFP and Associated Press