Russia bombarded the Black Sea port city of Odesa for a second straight night with drones and missiles, setting off loud and prolonged explosions early Wednesday in what Ukrainian officials said was an attack on grain terminals and other critical infrastructure Ukraine needs to ship food to the world.
Ukraine’s air force said that it was one of the largest sustained aerial assaults on Odesa, the country’s largest port, and that several waves of missiles and drones were launched at other cities overnight. Smoke was seen rising over the main port of Odesa as dawn broke.
President Volodymyr Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials called the assault part of a Russian effort to resume its de facto blockade of the Black Sea, after Moscow pulled out of a United Nations-brokered agreement that allowed for Ukrainian grain ships to export food. Russian missiles also hit Odesa on Tuesday in what Moscow claimed was retribution for an attack on a vital bridge to occupied Crimea.
“Russian terrorists deliberately targeted the grain deal’s infrastructure, and every Russian missile is a blow not only to Ukraine, but to everyone in the world who wants a normal and safe life,” Mr. Zelensky said Wednesday on the Telegram messaging app.
At least 30 cruise missiles and 32 attack drones were fired at targets across the country, primarily from the Black Sea, Ukraine’s Air Force said. Ukraine said it had intercepted 14 of the missiles and 23 of the drones.
“It was a hellish night,” Serhiy Bratchuk, a spokesman for the Odesa regional military administration, said in a video message posted on social media. He called the attack “very powerful, truly massive” and said it might have been the largest attack on the city since Russia’s full-scale invasion began.
In Odesa, one intercepted missile caused a large explosion, the blast wave damaging several buildings and injuring civilians, according to the Ukrainian military. Port infrastructure, including a grain and oil terminal, tanks and loading equipment were damaged, the military said. Tobacco and fireworks warehouses were also hit, according to the military. Odesa’s city government said that 10 people needed medical help, including a 9-year-old boy.
On the Russian-occupied Crimean peninsula, a fire at a military training ground prompted the evacuations of at least 2,000 residents and the closure of a highway, according to Sergei Aksyonov, the Russia-appointed head of Crimea.
The flare-up of tensions around the Black Sea follows Monday’s blast on the Kerch Strait Bridge connecting Crimea to Russia. The bridge, a strategically important link to supply Russian forces in southern Ukraine, was damaged in an apparent Ukrainian attack by naval drones.
Moscow has denied the attacks are related to the suspended grain deal, saying on Tuesday that they were a “mass retaliatory strike” on facilities used to manufacture drones used in attacks against Russia.
The Kremlin issued threats on Tuesday against Kyiv trying to continue shipments of food through the Black Sea, with its spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, saying: “Certain risks emerge there without appropriate security guarantees.”
Russia also launched a wave of drones on Wednesday at Kyiv, the capital, but all were destroyed by the city’s air defenses, said Serhiy Popko, the head of the city’s military administration.
Russia’s success in hitting critical infrastructure at the ports around Odesa reflected the difficulties Ukraine faces in trying to protect cities while also safeguarding critical infrastructure, military equipment and concentrations of troops.
“We can cover Odesa ports, Kyiv region, Dnipro, Lviv,” Yurii Ihnat, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Air Force, said in an appearance on Ukrainian television. “But we cannot block all directions from which missiles fly into Ukraine.”
The concentrated attacks on Odesa have been especially challenging for Ukraine given the types of missiles deployed by Russia and the tactics it uses to evade air defenses. Mr. Ihnat said the Russians fired Kh-22 cruise missiles on a ballistic trajectory, making them extremely fast and hard to shoot down, especially when launched from relatively close range. At the same time, he said, drones were used in large numbers in an effort to exhaust air defense systems, making it harder to track the more powerful missiles.