By Olena Harmash and Tom Balmforth
KYIV (Reuters) – Russia destroyed Ukrainian grain warehouses on the Danube in a drone attack on Monday, targeting a vital export route for Kiev in an expanding air campaign that Moscow began last week after it quit the Black Sea grain deal.
Last week’s attacks mainly hit Odessa’s seaports, but Monday’s predawn strikes hit infrastructure along the Danube, an export route that has grown in importance since the collapse of the deal allowing Ukrainian grain shipments through the Black Sea.
“Russian terrorists again attacked the Odessa region overnight. Port infrastructure on the Danube is the target this time,” regional governor Oleh Kiper wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
Global wheat and corn futures rose sharply on fears that Russian attacks and continued fighting, including a nighttime drone strike on Moscow, could threaten grain exports and shipping.
Hours after Monday’s attack, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on Russia to revert to the Black Sea grains deal, warning Rome of a devastating impact on “vulnerable countries struggling to feed their people”.
The Reni-Odesa news site quoted a local official as saying that three grain warehouses were destroyed in the Danube port town of Reni in the drone attack.
Video footage verified by Reuters shows a man swearing in disbelief past damaged grain warehouses in Reni, a major transport hub on the Danube from NATO and European Union member Romania.
“This recent escalation poses serious security risks in the Black Sea,” Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said on Twitter.
Since Russia’s invasion in February 2022, Ukraine has increased its grain exports overland via the EU to around 1 million tonnes per month, with large volumes being exported from Romanian ports and along the Danube.
“Over the past few months, Russia has not attacked Ukraine’s land and river grain infrastructure,” said a European trader. “Any disruption to this traffic could quickly affect international grain supplies.
A French trader called it a “major development and blow” for Ukrainian exports, adding: “Without the Black Sea corridor and now with attacks on alternative routes, it will be difficult to get Ukrainian grain out of the country.”
Ukrainian officials gave few details. Police said grain warehouses were hit with tanks to store other goods, sparking a fire that Kiper said injured seven people, one seriously.
In photographs of the damage released by the police, containers with the logo of the Maersk Group could be seen.
“Russia is trying to completely block the export of our grain and starve the world to death,” Kiper said.
Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba accused Russia of trying to extract concessions “by holding 400 million people hostage” and called for “a united global response to food terrorism”.
Some Ukrainian news outlets reported explosions overnight in the area of Izmail, another Danube port in the Odessa region, but no confirmed reports of damage followed.
Ship tracking data showed nearly 30 ships had anchored near Izmail. We don’t know what made them stop.
(Additional reporting by Valentyn Ogirenko in Kiev, Michael Hogan in Hamburg, Sybille de La Hamaide, Luiza Ilie and Anna Pruchnicka; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Nick Macfie and Timothy Heritage)