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Two merchant ships have docked in a Ukrainian port as Kiev steps up efforts to unilaterally break the Russian blockade of the Black Sea coast.

The two arriving ships docked in Chornomorsk, hours before Russia launched its latest spate of nightly missile and drone attacks on Ukraine. Agricultural infrastructure in the southern Odessa region was again targeted.

Russia also reported nightly Ukrainian drone attacks on Crimea, Moscow and other regions on Sunday.

“The first civilian ships used the temporary corridor towards Ukrainian ports. . . “We will load almost 20,000 tons of wheat for African and Asian countries,” said Oleksandr Kubrakov, Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine.

The Palau-flagged bulk carriers Resilient Africa and Aroyat are the first to reach Ukrainian ports since Russia withdrew from a United Nations-brokered deal in July that had allowed the export of more than 33 million tons of grain from Ukraine .

Kiev announced this summer a corridor along the Black Sea coast of its southern neighbors and NATO members Romania and Bulgaria for ships stranded in Ukraine’s ports after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Three ships carrying food and two carrying metallurgical products have left Ukrainian ports since the Kiev military opened the corridor, as Russia continues to defy international pressure to rejoin the grain export deal.

Ukraine currently exports most of its grain to EU countries by truck and rail overland routes. However, these routes involve additional costs that harm Kiev’s competitiveness. In addition, grain continues to be shipped from ports on the Danube that have been regularly subjected to missile attacks by Russian forces.

Armed with NATO-level air defense systems and long-range missiles from its Western allies, Ukraine has increasingly targeted Russia’s Black Sea Fleet based in Crimea, the peninsula it illegally annexed in 2014. Last week it destroyed a Russian naval ship and damaged a submarine docked for repairs in Sevastopol, the peninsula’s largest port.

Neutralizing Russia’s use of the peninsula as a military staging area is seen by officials in Kiev as key to breaking the Black Sea blockade and supporting a military counteroffensive. Russia still occupies about 18 percent of Ukraine’s territory in its southern and eastern regions.

Although ships using Ukraine’s Black Sea ports face significant risks, Kiev claims it can protect the shipping corridor by compromising Russia’s ability to police the northwestern corner of the Black Sea.

Russia’s attacks on Sunday damaged land and grain storage facilities in Berezivka, 90 km north of the provincial capital Odessa, said Oleg Kiper, the region’s governor.

The attacks also hit the northeastern city of Kharkiv and targets in the Dnipropetrovsk region.

Ukrainian Air Force commander Mykola Oleschuk posted a video on Telegram showing a Ukrainian air defense system intercepting an incoming missile near Odessa early Sunday, with the explosion resembling fireworks.

“Our favorite city can sleep peacefully!” he wrote.

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