Attacks on Odesa Port, Grain-Storage Facilities Latest Victims in Moscow’s ‘Senseless’ War against Ukraine, Senior Official Tells Security Council
Russian Federation Condemning Millions to Food Insecurity, Says Representative
Deliberately targeting infrastructure that facilitates the export of food to the rest of the world could be life-threatening to millions of people who need access to affordable food, a senior United Nations official told the Security Council today, as speakers condemned the Russian Federation’s air strikes against ports and grain-storage facilities in Odesa.
Khaled Khiari, Assistant Secretary-General for Middle East, Asia and the Pacific in the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations, said this week, the port city of Odesa has been the target of a devastating wave of air strikes. The 23 July Russian missile attack, which damaged the Transfiguration Cathedral and other historical buildings in the historic centre of Odesa, followed several successive nights of deadly missile and drone strikes targeting Odesa and other cities in southern Ukraine, including Mykolaiv and Chornomorsk.
He emphasized that attacks against Ukrainian Black Sea port facilities risk having far-reaching impacts on global food security, particularly in developing countries. Port cities that allow for the export of grain — such as Odesa, Reni and Izmail — are a lifeline for many. “Now they are the latest casualties in this senseless, brutal war,” he said, declaring: “Ukrainians have suffered enough, the world has suffered enough.”
In the ensuring debate, Council members sounded alarm over the sharp increase in the Russian Federation’s attacks on the Black Sea coast, stressing that these actions will continue to deteriorate global food insecurity.
The representative of Albania said “in a war that has lost its way, as part of a policy that has no meaning”, the Russian Federation is intentionally targeting ports and grain-storage facilities. By blocking and bombing Ukrainian seaports and preventing freedom of navigation in the Black Sea, Moscow is not only preventing Ukraine from exporting its grain and agricultural production, but also condemning millions to food insecurity, mostly in developing countries in the Global South.
“There is no end in sight to this war [in Ukraine],” warned China’s delegate, calling on all parties to refrain from attacking infrastructure, cultural sites and safeguard the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. All parties should meet each other part way to revive the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which is essential to maintaining the global food supply, he underscored.
In the same vein, Gabon’s delegate said that, as the food situation is in danger of being deprived of a third of the global grain, strikes on Odesa ports are likely to damage existent infrastructure used to transport grain, raising fear of a food crisis. “Even if the prospects for peace might seem remote and the sound of cannon fire persists, we hope that dialogue and the melody of peace will eventually triumph,” she said, voicing support for diplomatic initiatives.
Brazil’s delegate, expressing concern over the recent attacks in populated areas in Odesa, resulting in loss of yet more human life and significant damage to civilian infrastructure and to cultural and historic Ukrainian heritage, welcomed the expected deployment of a United Nations mission to Odesa in the next few days to ascertain the extent of the destruction resulting from these attacks.
The representative of the United Arab Emirates cited destruction to Odesa as “a reminder” of the material and intangible costs of the war on civilians, civilian objects and cultural heritage. Since February 2022, there have been nearly 25,000 civilian casualties recorded in Ukraine, including more than 9,000 killed. “The toll wrought by war is heavy and the road to reconstruction and healing will be long and arduous,” he said, reiterating that the international community must exert all efforts to achieve a lasting peace in Ukraine.
Rounding out the discussion, Ukraine’s delegate said that, following the 23 July attack, nearly 50 buildings were damaged or destroyed, including 4 schools and 5 kindergartens. The Russian Federation continues its attacks against port infrastructure and grain storage facilities, he said, warning that — without a strong response — the country “will be encouraged to further undermine the security situation in the Black Sea by attacking civilian vessels”.
KHALED KHIARI, Assistant Secretary-General for Middle East, Asia and the Pacific in the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations, sounded alarm over the widespread destruction and suffering caused by the war in Ukraine. This week, the port city of Odesa has been the target of a devastating wave of air strikes. On 23 July, a Russian missile attack damaged the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)-protected Transfiguration Cathedral and other historical buildings in the historic centre of Odesa, a world heritage site. In this shocking attack, one person was reportedly killed, and several others, including children, injured. The attack also caused extensive damage to an important place of worship with religious and cultural significance to Ukraine and beyond, in violation of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. The 23 July attack followed several successive nights of deadly Russian Federations missile and drone strikes targeting Odesa and other cities in southern Ukraine, including Mykolaiv and Chornomorsk, killing at least three people and injuring dozens of others. Unfortunately, the 23 July attack was not the first targeting Ukrainian culture and heritage, he said, adding that since 24 February 2022, UNESCO has verified damage to 274 cultural sites in Ukraine, including 117 religious sites.
He underscored that attacks against Ukrainian Black Sea port facilities risk having far-reaching impacts on global food security, particularly in developing countries. He highlighted disturbing reports of further Russian Federation strikes against port infrastructure, including grain-storage facilities, in Reni and Izmail ports on the Danube River — a key route for shipment of Ukrainian grain, not far from Ukraine’s borders with Romania and the Republic of Moldova. “Deliberately targeting infrastructure that facilitates the export of food to the rest of the world could be life-threatening to millions of people who need access to affordable food,” he stressed. These attacks targeting Ukraine’s grain-export facilities, similarly to all attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure, must stop immediately, he asserted, emphasizing that attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure may constitute a violation of international humanitarian law.
The Secretary-General stated last week that he would “not relent in his efforts to ensure that Ukrainian and Russian food and fertilizer are available on international markets” as part of his ongoing efforts to fight global hunger and ensure stable food prices for consumers everywhere, he recalled. However, the Humanitarian Response Plan for 2023 is only 29 per cent funded, he said, noting that further funding is desperately needed to help all in need. In the first six months of 2023, 7.3 million people have received humanitarian assistance in Ukraine. The United Nations and its humanitarian partners remain committed to providing life-saving humanitarian assistance and safeguarding the lives and dignity of persons affected by the war. In the wake of Russian Federation’s withdrawal from the Black Sea Grain Initiative, these latest attacks signal a calamitous turn for Ukrainians and the world. Port cities that allow for the export of grain such as Odesa, Reni and Izmail, are a lifeline for many. Now they are the latest casualties in this senseless, brutal war. “Ukrainians have suffered enough, the world has suffered enough,” he said.
ARIAN SPASSE (Albania) said “in a war that has lost its way, as part of a policy that has no meaning”, the Russian Federation is targeting everything: innocent people, residential areas, civilian infrastructure and cultural heritage. With its latest decision to kill the Black Sea Grain Initiative, Moscow is again disrupting the food supply chain. Moreover, it is intentionally targeting ports and grain-storage facilities. The intense drone and missile attacks against Odesa aimed to damage the port infrastructure, including its grain and oil terminal, he said, adding that the bombardment inflicted serious damage to export facilities and destroyed at least 60,000 tons of grain. By blocking and bombing Ukrainian seaports and preventing freedom of navigation in the Black Sea, Moscow is not only preventing Ukraine from exporting its grain and agricultural production, it is condemning millions to food insecurity, mostly in developing countries in the Global South.
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States) said the Russian Federation earlier this morning wasted the Council’s time and it is ironic that it destroyed a cathedral in Odesa when it struck the Port of Odesa. There have been about 270 cultural sites damaged or destroyed since Russian Federation President Vladimir V. Putin launched his attacks against Ukraine. The Kremlin’s campaign of brutality has been relentless. The attacks have world consequences and are attacking the world’s food supply. The bombardment of Odesa and other port cities has destroyed critical grain-storage infrastructure. The Russian Federation suspended its participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which helped to get food to people in need. The Initiative lowered food prices for all and has been critical in benefiting the developing world. The Russian Federation will tell you otherwise, yet the facts are not on their side, which is why they have chosen not to speak in this meeting, she said. “Another temper tantrum for not getting their way,” she added. The Council should not be silent and should address this pressing matter of international peace and security.
MONICA SOLEDAD SÁNCHEZ IZQUIERDO (Ecuador) deplored that, after suspending its participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative, the Russian Federation has decided to accompany that decision with continued attacks against port cities and facilities. She sounded alarm that the military aggression against Ukraine has resulted in the destruction of hundreds of religious sites, most of them verified by UNESCO. Further, she condemned the continuous attacks against critical civilian infrastructure, calling for an end to the attacks against the production and export infrastructure, as well as the main or alternative routes for grain trade. These actions will continue to deteriorate global food insecurity, she emphasized, calling on the Russian Federation to withdraw its occupation troops and put an end to the military aggression, without further delay.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) said that, for more than a week, the Russian Federation has been “raining missiles and drones on the Odesa region. These deadly strikes have only one purpose: to punish Ukraine.” Since ending the Black Sea Grain Initiative, the Russian Federation has been targeting port infrastructure in Odesa and Mykolaiv and shelled grain silos, sheds and grain terminals. More than 700 million people suffer from hunger and the Russian Federation has already destroyed more than 60,000 tons of grain. “Again, Russia is leveraging blackmail as a tactic, and hunger as its weapon,” he added. It blocks exports from Ukrainian ports to spark agricultural prices and increase profits from its own exports. The most vulnerable countries suffer from these actions and France will continue to assist afflicted populations. Calling the destruction of Ukrainian culture and heritage a double war crime, he said France will continue to support the preservation and repair of Ukrainian heritage.
GENG SHUANG (China) said the situation in Ukraine has been escalating and his delegation is deeply concerned that there seems to be no end to the war. He called on both parties to the conflict to remain calm and not escalate the situation while observing international humanitarian law. All parties should refrain from attacking infrastructure, cultural sites and safeguard the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. The Black Sea Grain Initiative is very important to maintain the global food supply. All parties should meet each other part way and he encouraged the Secretary-General’s efforts to revive the Initiative. Efforts to end hostilities must continue and he encouraged the international community to create conditions for a political settlement. His delegation urged that the sovereignty of all States should be respected.
LILLY STELLA NGYEMA NDONG (Gabon) said that the strategies used by the parties to the conflict, targeting residential areas to destabilize their adversary, represent actions counter to international peace and security. Despite the de-escalation calls, violence persists, she stressed, urging the parties not to target essential infrastructure and the civilian population. “The toll is already too high,” she underscored, calling for a diplomatic and political solution. As the food situation is in danger of being deprived of a third of the global grain, she noted that strikes on Odesa ports are likely to damage existent infrastructure used to transport grain, raising fear of a food crisis. Encouraging the Council to support diplomatic initiatives to promote a negotiated settlement, she said: “Even if the prospects for peace might seem remote and the sound of cannon fire persists, we hope that dialogue and the melody of peace will eventually triumph.”
SÉRGIO FRANÇA DANESE (Brazil) expressed concern over the recent attacks in populated areas of Ukraine, namely in Odesa, resulting in loss of yet more human life and significant damage to civilian infrastructure and to cultural and historic Ukrainian heritage. “We once again call on all parties to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law,” he stressed. Since the start of the conflict, UNESCO has recorded damage to 270 cultural sites in Ukraine, including 116 places of worship. Brazil welcomes the expected deployment of a United Nations mission to Odesa in the next few days to ascertain the extent of the destruction resulting from the recent attacks. He called for a peaceful solution to the conflict, one that fully respects Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and addresses the security concerns of all parties involved. Continued fighting will result in more fatalities of the innocent and most vulnerable and jeopardize the future of generations to come.
DOMINGOS ESTÊVÃO FERNANDES (Mozambique) said that attacks on critical port facilities signal a significant escalation of the war and could lead to a full-fledged commerce war. “We fear that neutral third-nation ships passing through these crucial naval routes might be targeted, increasing the risk of collateral damage and retaliatory actions,” he warned. All parties must fully comply with their obligations under international law, including the requirement to abide by the principles of distinction, proportionality and protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure. Mozambique strongly urges maximum restraint and reminds all parties of their obligations under international law. As the conflict intensifies and the humanitarian consequences worsen, a refugee crisis looms over the region. As each day passes, chances of reviving the Black Sea Grain Initiative dims, worsening the global food shortage and closing diplomatic options to deescalate the conflict.
CAROLYN ABENA ANIMA OPPONG-NTIRI (Ghana) emphasized the need for the parties to heed the calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities, while underscoring that the further militarization of the conflict, fuelled by the manifestation of their combative choices, will not change the dynamics of the conflict on the ground. “It is futile to use force in contemporary State relations,” she stressed, while expressing concern about the negative impact of the conflict on the global humanitarian situation. In this context, she reiterated a call on the Russian Federation to cease its attacks on cultural property, while urging both Moscow and Kyiv to stop hostilities. “Dialogue is the path we must choose, and dialogue is the choice we must support,” she observed.
SHINO MITSUKO (Japan) said that the Russian Federation has used heavy weaponry to target civilian infrastructure and has launched drone attacks on grain-storage facilities. “Russia’s reprehensible actions clearly demonstrate their strategy of using global food supplies as a weapon, relentlessly causing severe consequences upon those vulnerable across the world,” she added. After the Russian Federation’s termination of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, it has been reported that grain prices have rapidly hiked. Japan condemned the Russian Federation’s actions, “taking the rest of the world hostage while blaming others for the crisis”. According to UNESCO, as many as 270 cultural sites in Ukraine have been damaged since the Russian Federation’s onset of hostilities, including religious sites, museums, historically significant buildings, monuments and libraries. “Cultural heritage embodies not only a nation’s unique identity and history, but also that of humanity at large,” she emphasized.
MOHAMED ISSA ABUSHAHAB (United Arab Emirates) said destruction and damage to Odesa is a reminder of the material and intangible costs of the war on civilians, civilian objects and cultural heritage. Since February 2022, there have been nearly 25,000 civilian casualties recorded in Ukraine, including more than 9,000 killed and close to 16,000 people injured. Despite the international community’s appeals, the destruction of critical civilian infrastructure in Ukraine continues with estimated damages reaching billion of dollars. As mentioned earlier, UNESCO has verified damage to 270 cultural sites in Ukraine since the beginning of the war. “The toll wrought by war is heavy and the road to reconstruction and healing will be long and arduous,” he said, reiterating that the international community must exert all efforts to achieve a just, lasting peace that is in line with the Charter of the United Nations and respects Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.
ADRIAN DOMINIK HAURI (Switzerland) said that, since Moscow’s decision last week not to extend the Black Sea Grain Initiative, “the people of Odesa have had to endure nights that no one should have to live through”. He sounded alarm over the sharp increase in the Russian Federation’s attacks on the Black Sea coast, which have caused civilian casualties and destroyed homes, port infrastructure and grain silos. Indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks must be stopped, he asserted, deploring the damages recently caused during Moscow’s artillery attack on a cultural centre serving as humanitarian facility in Chasiv Yar in the Donetsk region. Attacks on areas protected by the World Heritage Convention represent severe damage to Ukraine’s cultural heritage, he said, adding that “not just walls are collapsing; a cultural heritage is under threat”. He underscored that the attacks on port facilities — including on the Danube River near the Romanian border — and the threats to civilian shipping present a dangerous potential for escalation.
DARREN CAMILLERI (Malta) recalled that, last week, the Russian Federation decided to withdraw from the Black Sea Grain Initiative. This decision was taken in full knowledge of the fact that it seriously risks undoing everything that has been achieved in the past year and that it might set off a global humanitarian crisis. Since then, the country has been repeatedly attacking Ukraine’s Port of Odesa, a key hub for exporting grain, and targeting port infrastructure and food storage facilities. Administrative, cultural, religious and residential buildings have also been subject to a barrage of strikes, and civilians have been killed. In this connection, he welcomed the establishment of the International Centre for the Prosecution of the Crime of Aggression against Ukraine and the establishment of the Register of Damage Caused by the Aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine. These are two important steps towards achieving accountability and ensuring the right to reparations for the citizens of Ukraine, the legal entities of Ukraine and the State of Ukraine.
BARBARA WOODWARD (United Kingdom), President of the Council for the month of July, speaking in her national capacity, recalled that the Transfiguration Cathedral — Odesa’s largest Orthodox Church — has been bombed twice: in 1936 on Stalin’s orders and now on Putin’s order. “This act of cultural and religious vandalism struck at the heart of the civilian community,” she emphasized, noting that Moscow’s aggression has left a wide trail of destruction across the country. UNESCO has verified damage to over 270 cultural and historical sites, while thousands of artworks and other artefacts have been stolen. Moreover, the Russian Federation is imposing its laws and education systems in Ukraine, restricting Ukrainian media and Indigenous languages, while also trying to indoctrinate children through forced transfers to the Russian Federation. “Russia is seeking to destroy Ukraine’s history, identity and cultural heritage,” she stressed, while pointing out that with the strikes, Moscow is also harming the world’s hungriest.
SERGIY KYSLYTSYA (Ukraine) said that, on 23 July the Russian Federation shelled the city centre of Odesa with dozens of missiles, adding that using anti‑ship missiles against ground targets effectively turns them into low precision weapons of indiscriminate effect. In total, nearly 50 buildings were damaged or destroyed following the attack, including four schools and five kindergartens. Ukrainian grain and other foodstuffs remain another target that the Russian Federation is trying to eliminate. The Russian Federation continues its attacks against port infrastructure and grain storage facilities. “These aggressive actions merit a strong response, otherwise Russia will be encouraged to further undermine the security situation in the Black Sea by attacking civilian vessels,” he warned. There are grounds to believe that the Russian Federation is preparing such incidents for the purposes of blaming Ukraine and discouraging vessels from other countries from entering Ukrainian waters and using Ukrainian ports.
The Russian Federation’s blockade of Ukrainian ports and destruction of infrastructure are aimed at eliminating a market competitor, deliberately raising world food prices and making a profit at the expense of the millions of vulnerable people, he continued. He went on to describe how Ukrainian children “trapped in the occupied territories of Ukraine are now subject to anti-Ukrainian indoctrination and propaganda”, aimed at instilling hatred towards Ukraine, its language, culture and history. The Russian Federation plans to take at least 30,000 children away from the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine. “The main goal of such recreation for the Ukrainian children, as claimed is to ensure ‘the sociocultural integration of children into Russian society’, which effectively means aggressive brainwashing,” he continued. Unlike the Russian Federation which seeks only greater war, Ukraine has proposed a peace formula, which aligns with the principles of the Charter of the United Nations. The peace formula is the only way to restore just and lasting peace and stability in the region, he added.