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Grain is loaded at a port in Odesa, Ukraine

Barges are loaded with grain at Reni river port in the Odesa region of Ukraine on July 21, 2022. (Photo: Sergii Kharchenko/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

UN Chief Condemns Airstrikes on Key Ukrainian Port Hours After Grain Deal

"Yesterday, all parties made clear commitments on the global stage to ensure the safe movement of Ukrainian grain and related products to global markets."

Jake Johnson

The head of the United Nations denounced airstrikes that slammed the key Ukrainian port of Odesa on Saturday, just hours after Moscow and Kyiv signed a deal aimed at freeing millions of tons of grain exports and alleviating the global food crisis.

Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, said that "the secretary-general unequivocally condemns reported strikes today in the Ukrainian port of Odesa."

But the statement did not assign blame for the missile strikes, which the Ukrainian military said were carried out by Russian forces.

"Yesterday, all parties made clear commitments on the global stage to ensure the safe movement of Ukrainian grain and related products to global markets," Haq continued. "These products are desperately needed to address the global food crisis and ease the suffering of millions of people in need around the globe. Full implementation by the Russian Federation, Ukraine, and Türkiye is imperative."

The New York Times reported Saturday that it "was unclear what the strikes were targeting and whether any grain infrastructure was hit."

"Russia may not have technically violated the deal, since it did not pledge to avoid attacking the parts of the Ukrainian ports that are not directly used for the grain exports, according to a senior U.N. official," the newspaper added.

The grain deal signed Friday was hailed as a significant diplomatic achievement and an important step toward getting more than 20 million tons of grain safely out of Ukrainian ports that have been blocked due to Russia's invasion, worsening food shortages in poor countries that rely heavily on imports from Ukraine.

Max Lawson, Oxfam International's inequality policy and advocacy lead, said in a statement Saturday that the grain deal—which was brokered by the U.N. and Türkiye—"will help countries already mired in hunger crises and which, until the war broke out, relied on Ukraine and Russia for their wheat imports."

"This includes Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya, which have experienced soaring food prices amidst the worst drought in nearly 40 years, as well as Yemen," Lawson added. "This agreement alone won’t solve the hunger crisis impacting multiple countries around the world. We need a concerted global effort to ensure everyone has equal access to affordable, nutritious food. That means fixing our deeply unequal food system."

"It is critical that food is not used as a weapon of war," he continued. "Grains must be able to move swiftly to countries most in need. It is equally important that aid organizations are able to purchase this wheat and get it to those who desperately need it."

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