KYIV — Heavy Russian strikes hit the southern Ukrainian port city of Mykolaiv early on Sunday, killing the owner of one of the country’s largest grain exporters, while Russia said a Ukrainian drone struck its Black Sea fleet headquarters in Sevastopol.
Oleksiy Vadatursky, founder and owner of agriculture company Nibulon, and his wife were killed in their home, Mykolaiv Governor Vitaliy Kim said on Telegram.
Headquartered in Mykolaiv, a strategically important city that borders the mostly Russia-occupied Kherson region, Nibulon specializes in the production and export of wheat, barley and corn, and has its own fleet and shipyard.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy described Vadatursky’s death as “a great loss for all of Ukraine,” saying the businessman had been building a modern grain market involving a network of transhipment terminals and elevators.
“It is these people, these companies, precisely the south of Ukraine, which has guaranteed the world’s food security,” Zelenskiy said later in his nightly address. “This was always so. And it will be so once again.”
He added that Ukraine’s social and industrial potential, “our people, our capabilities, are surely more powerful than any Russian missiles or shells.”
Three people were also wounded in the attacks on Mikolaiv, the city’s Mayor Oleksandr Senkevych told Ukrainian television, adding 12 missiles hit homes and educational facilities. He earlier described the strikes as “probably the most powerful” on the city of the entire five-month-old war.
Up to 50 Grad rockets hit residential areas in the southern city of Nikopol on Sunday morning, Dnipropetrovsk Governor Valentyn Reznichenko wrote on Telegram. One person was wounded.
NAVY DAY STRIKE
Ukrainian forces hit Russia’s Black Sea Fleet headquarters in Russian-held Sevastopol early on Sunday, the Crimean port city’s governor Mikhail Razvozhayev told Russian media.
Five staff members were wounded in the attack when what was presumed to be a drone flew into the courtyard at the headquarters, he said, adding that Ukraine had decided to “spoil Navy Day for us.”
Reuters could not independently verify the battlefield reports.
The Sevastopol attack coincided with Russia’s Navy Day, which President Vladimir Putin marked by announcing that the navy would receive what he called “formidable” hypersonic Zircon cruise missiles in coming months. Those missiles can travel at nine times the speed of sound.
He did not mention the conflict in Ukraine during a speech after signing a new naval doctrine which cast the United States as Russia’s main rival and set out Russia’s global maritime ambitions for crucial areas such as the Arctic and in the Black Sea.
Putin sent tens of thousands of troops over the border on Feb. 24, setting off a conflict that has killed thousands, uprooted millions and deeply strained relations between Russia and the West.
The biggest conflict in Europe since World War Two has also stoked an energy and food crisis that is shaking the global economy. Both Ukraine and Russia are leading suppliers of grain.
HARVEST COULD BE HALVED
Zelenskiy said on Sunday the country may harvest only half its usual amount this year due to the invasion.
“Ukrainian harvest this year is under the threat to be twice less,” suggesting half as much as usual, Zelenskiy wrote in English on Twitter. “Our main goal — to prevent global food crisis caused by Russian invasion. Still grains find a way to be delivered alternatively,” he added.
Ukraine has struggled to get its product to buyers via its Black Sea ports because of the war.
But an agreement signed under the stewardship of the United Nations and Turkey on July 22 provides for safe passage for ships carrying grain out of three southern Ukrainian ports.
There is a high possibility that the first grain-exporting ship will leave Ukraine’s ports on Monday, a spokesperson for Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday.
Zelenskiy said on Sunday that Russia has been transferring some forces from the eastern Donbas region to the southern Kherson and Zaporizhizhya regions.
“But that won’t help them there. None of the Russian strikes will go unanswered by our military and intelligence officers,” he added.
But Zelenskiy said on Saturday that hundreds of thousands of people were still exposed to fierce fighting in the Donbas region, which contains Donetsk and Luhansk provinces and which Russia seeks to control completely. Swathes of the Donbas were held before the invasion by Russian-backed separatists.
Russia said on Sunday it had invited U.N. and Red Cross experts to probe the deaths of dozens of Ukrainian prisoners held by Moscow-backed separatists.
Ukraine and Russia have traded accusations over a missile strike or explosion early on Friday that appeared to have killed the Ukrainian prisoners of war in the front-line town of Olenivka in eastern Donetsk.
The Russian defense ministry had published a list of 50 Ukrainian prisoners of war killed and 73 wounded in what it said was a Ukrainian military strike with U.S.-made artillery.
Ukraine’s armed forces denied responsibility, saying Russian artillery had attacked the prison to hide mistreatment there.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Sunday condemned the attack and said it had not yet received permission to visit the site, while adding it was not its mandate to publicly investigate alleged war crimes.
(Reporting by Reuters bureaus Writing by Lincoln Feast, William Maclean and David Lawder Editing by William Mallard, Frances Kerry and Tomasz Janowski)