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Targeting Odesa marks a new turn in the war

Odesa's Transfiguration Cathedral was hit by a missile overnight (Credit: Getty images)

The world is waking up to pictures of fresh destruction in the Ukrainian port city of Odesa, which has been under constant Russian fire since the grain export deal collapsed last week. At least one person has been killed and 19 more injured following missile strikes overnight. The roof of the recently-rebuilt Transfiguration Cathedral has partially collapsed, and there have been films of local residents trying to rescue icons and other sacred artefacts. The footage is striking – but a tiny part of what’s now at stake.

Back in July 2022, Russia agreed not to destroy Ukraine’s grain-exporting infrastructure given how important the foodstuff is to Africa and world food prices; Turkey and the UN negotiated the deal. According to UN records, the agreement saw 1,145 consignments leave Ukrainian ports carrying 33 tonnes of corn, wheat and other food products to 45 countries.

Debris litters the floor of Odesa’s cathedral (Credit: Getty Images)

But a strong Russian harvest, part of which consists of requisitioned crops from occupied Ukraine, has emboldened Vladimir Putin to try a new manoeuvre: to destroy Ukraine’s grain business. Russia’s president wants to give the world an ultimatum: buy Russian grain via Russian banks, or condemn thousands in Africa to hunger or starvation.

After declaring the end of the grain deal earlier this week, Russia has now turned on Odesa with some of the most furious attacks it has launched since the start of its invasion. Last night, 19 missiles were fired at the city; only nine were destroyed before they hit because Ukraine is running out of air defences. Odesa’s city centre is a World Heritage site protected by Unesco, but the architectural destruction is far from the only concern about what is unfolding.

The image of the attack on the cathedral – which is the city’s largest Orthodox church – is striking but a tiny part of what’s now at stake

Russia hopes its missiles will ensure Odesa’s infrastructure is so badly damaged that it can never be resumed.

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