Ukraine Live Briefing: Russia blames West for global food crisis despite blockade on Ukrainian grain

Firefighters in Odessa, Ukraine, put out a blaze on July 23 that was blamed on Russian missiles.
Firefighters in Odessa, Ukraine, put out a blaze on July 23 that was blamed on Russian missiles. (Odesa City Hall Press Office/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

The Kremlin’s top diplomat on Sunday sought to blame global food shortages and an escalating hunger crisis on the United States and its European allies, looking to deflect responsibility for the consequences of the Russian-launched war in Ukraine and trying to rally support for Moscow during a tour across Africa.

In Egypt, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Western sanctions on Russia have upended international food markets, and he cast Russia as an ally of the continent. Yet anger has mounted over Moscow’s blockade of Ukrainian ports, which has prevented millions of tons of grain from being exported. Even after a breakthrough grain deal was signed, Russia struck a key Ukrainian port city, raising questions about its commitment to the agreement.

Here’s the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war.

Key developments

  • Russian officials claimed responsibility for Saturday’s missile attack on the port city of Odessa less than 24 hours after signing a key deal to release Ukrainian grain. Russia said only military targets were hit in Odessa, including a Ukrainian warship.
  • Despite the attack, Ukraine plans to push ahead with its preparations to resume grain exports, officials said. The missile strikes did not damage grain silos at the port, according to a military assessment, and staffers continued to lay the technical groundwork for the shipments. “We will not back down from our goal of unlocking sea ports,” Ukraine’s infrastructure minister, Oleksandr Kubrakov, said in a statement.
  • The Russian strike on Odessa shows that resuming grain exports via the Black Sea will not be easy, an economic adviser to Ukraine’s president said Sunday. Oleh Ustenko, who estimated that 60 million tons of grain could be transported within eight to nine months if ports were immediately unblocked, said “yesterday’s strike shows that it definitely won’t work that way,” according to Reuters.
  • Two Americans were killed in Donbas, a State Department spokesperson told The Washington Post, without providing details. A Ukrainian commander, Ruslan Miroshnichenko, on Sunday identified the men as Luke Lucyszyn and Bryan Young and said they were killed alongside Emile-Antoine Roy-Sirois of Canada and Edvard Selander Patrignani of Sweden near the town of Siversk in the Donetsk region on July 18.
  • Human Rights Watch found that Russian forces have tortured, unlawfully detained and forcibly disappeared civilians in the occupied areas of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. In a report published Friday, the organization documented instances of torture — including beatings and electroshocks — as well as arbitrary detention and unlawful confinement of civilians. Russian forces have turned the country’s south into an “abyss of fear and wild lawlessness,” said Yulia Gorbunova, senior Ukraine researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Global impact

  • In his first stop on a four-country tour of Africa, Lavrov met with his counterpart in Cairo and reassured Egypt — which imports massive amounts of grains from Russia and Ukraine — that Russia would “meet their commitments,” Reuters reported. Lavrov also held a meeting with Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit. To counter Lavrov’s message, the United States sent its own diplomat to the region, dispatching Mike Hammer, special envoy for the Horn of Africa, on Sunday.
  • Ukrainian officials want more advanced HIMARS, but the United States says it’s complicated. Soldiers say the dozen U.S. multiple-launch precision rocket systems are a “game changer,” The Post reports. Yet the Biden administration is parceling out the rocket systems slowly, watching how the Ukrainians handle them and how the Russians respond.
  • Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said “only Russian-U.S. talks can put an end” to the Ukraine war. During a speech in Romania, Orban said that only Washington could give the security guarantees Russia wants. He added that the European Union “should not side with the Ukrainians” but position itself between both sides.
  • Adoptions of Ukrainian children have been stalled by the war, and families are lobbying authorities in Washington and Kyiv to allow dozens of children who previously visited the United States to come and stay for a few months. “We’re not asking for a special exception or to skirt around the full adoption process,” one U.S. woman, who hosted her would-be daughter Katya from Ukraine for four weeks in December, told The Post. “We just want to give her a break and respite from the war.”

Battlefield updates

  • Russian forces have continued attacks on settlements in the northeastern region of Kharkiv, which borders Russia and is home to Ukraine’s second-largest city. Ukraine’s armed forces said early Sunday that artillery had targeted at least 12 settlements.
  • A Ukrainian farmer was killed outside of Kharkiv city on Sunday when his tractor activated an explosive device planted in one of his fields, local police said, a reminder of the perilous conditions under which Ukraine’s key agriculture sector continues to operate.
  • Russia continued to shell dozens of settlements in the Mykolaiv region in an effort to prevent the advance of Ukrainian troops, Ukraine’s General Staff said Sunday. At least two people were killed and several others injured in rocket attacks on residential areas, the region’s governor wrote on Telegram.
  • The British Defense Ministry dismissed Russia’s claims that it has expanded its military operation. The ministry’s daily intelligence update said long-term control of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions — which have been occupied by Russian forces since the early days of the invasion — “was almost certainly an original goal of the invasion.”
  • At least 18 medical personnel have been killed, more than 50 health-care workers injured and nearly 900 medical facilities damaged or destroyed since the start of Russia’s invasion, Ukraine’s Health Ministry said.
  • Ukrainian forces are advancing in Russian-held Kherson, Zelensky said Saturday in his nightly address. In a report published Saturday, the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said Ukrainian forces have probably recaptured some areas in the region, but they are difficult to pinpoint because of a lack of official information.

From our correspondents

His city occupied, a Ukrainian mayor fights to save his community. Mykola Khanatov is a mayor without a city, Dalton Bennett reports from Novomoskovsk, Ukraine. Now in exile after fleeing the war in his hometown of Popasna, Khanatov and other city officials have begun the painstaking process of trying to rebuild the administration they left behind.

Bennett writes: “Their headquarters is a three-car garage, 170 miles west in the town of Novomoskovsk. At the school next door, the mayor works out of a former classroom, the walls lined with pictures drawn by students with messages reading ‘Lets go Ukraine’ and ‘Think happy’ scribbled in crayon. Their new city planning meetings are spent organizing humanitarian deliveries to exhausted families from Popasna and helping others navigate the bureaucracy of a government at war. With most of the city’s 20,000 residents displaced, and those still there facing increasingly dire conditions, the need is growing.”