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Ukraine sees its defenses in Odessa heightened as Russia affects world grain supplies

(CNN) — Ukraine struggled to stem the tide Russian attacks against the southern city of Odessa, but its air defenses are incapable of dealing with the types of missiles Moscow used to attack the region this week.

The Ukrainian Air Force said it destroyed only five of 19 Russian cruise missiles fired at the country overnight on Thursday. This was a significantly lower success rate compared to previous waves targeting Kyiv and Ukrainian officials attributed the lack of more advanced security systems in the southern part of the country.

The people of Odessa have already faced three nights of heavy shelling. Around 2 a.m. Thursday, CNN crews began hearing explosions. The near-consecutive attacks lasted at least 90 minutes, with the drone of drones echoing through the port city.

Firefighters were working Thursday morning at the administrative building that was one of the victims. A four-storey building was engulfed in flames.

Ukrainian rescue workers work on a building hit by Russian missiles on July 20, 2023 in Odesa, Ukraine. Credit: OLEKSANDR GIMANOV/AFP via Getty Images)

As the shelling began, officials warned residents to take cover. “Go to your shelters and don’t leave until the siren goes off. Take care of yourself and your loved ones,” Oleh Kiber, head of the Odesa region’s military administration, said in a Telegram post.

Ukrainian officials said that air defense systems in the area were not capable of shooting down Russian Onyx and Kh-22 missiles because of their speed. “What can be shot down is shot down,” said Yuriy Ihnat, a spokesman for the Air Force Command of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. “Of course, we want to shoot down more.”

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“We need mechanisms, we need to strengthen the southern regions, our port cities, especially, against ballistic missiles,” he said. “Systems like Patriot or SAMP-T can provide security for this region.”

Ukraine has received at least two Patriotic organizations In April, one from the US and one from Germany. Although the Ukrainian military has not disclosed their locations, it has previously confirmed that it used them to shoot down missiles aimed at Kiev.

Unlike Ukraine’s Soviet-era air defenses, the Patriot interceptor missiles can attack medium- and high-altitude aircraft, cruise missiles and some ballistic missiles, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The system has a powerful radar that can detect incoming targets at long distances, making it possible to fire this type of weapon.

However, unlike some of the short-range air defenses supplied to Ukraine, the mobile, Patriot large battery is a stationary system, meaning it is not possible for the Ukrainian military to quickly redistribute it to different areas.

Targeting grain infrastructure

Moscow launched an intensive bombing campaign on Monday against Odesa, Mykolaiv and other settlements in southern Ukraine after Ukraine attacked a key Crimean bridge. He had more attacks on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said the strikes were in retaliation for the attack on the bridge and said they targeted facilities associated with Ukraine’s maritime attack drones. However, Ukraine said Russia was attacking civilian infrastructure related to grain exports.

Moscow announced on Monday that it would stop participating in an agreement that allowed Ukrainian grain to be exported via the Black Sea. The announcement raised fears about global food security, as Ukraine accounts for 10% of the world wheat market, 15% of the corn market and 13% of the barley market.

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Russia’s withdrawal from the deal, along with the attacks, drew sharp criticism from Ukraine and its allies. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Wednesday that attacks on grain infrastructure showed that “Russia’s target is not only Ukraine, but also the lives of our people.”

“Around one million tons of food is stored in the ports that were attacked today. This is a volume that should have been supplied to consuming countries in Africa and Asia before long,” he said. The entire world is affected by this Russian terrorism.

Samantha Power, administrator of the US Agency for International Development, said Putin’s decision to withdraw from the grain deal would hit poor people hard. “The idea that Putin would play roulette with the world’s hungry people during the biggest food crisis of our lifetime is deeply troubling,” Power said in an interview with CNN on Tuesday.

The EU’s top diplomat, Joseph Borrell, said on Thursday that Russia’s “barbaric” attacks were causing large-scale destruction of grain stocks. “Not only are they withdrawing from the grain agreement to export grain from Ukraine, they are burning grain. We already know that this is going to create the biggest food crisis in the world,” Borrell said.

CNN’s Vasco Godovio, Mia Alberti, Yulia Kesaiva, Alex Hardy and Katarina Krebs contributed to this report.