Ukraine war: What you need to know this Tuesday

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‘Too early to rejoice’ over grain exports, says Zelenskyy

Ukraine’s president said on Monday it was “too early” to rejoice after Ukrainian grain shipments resumed from the port of Odesa. 

“At this time it is too early to draw conclusions and make any predictions,” Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his daily video address. “Let’s wait to see how the agreement will work and if security will really be guaranteed.”

The departure of the first Ukrainian ship carrying much-needed from Odesa since the start of the Russian blockade of Black Sea ports five months ago has been widely welcomed.

Loaded with 26,000 tons of corn, the ship is bound for the port of Tripoli in Lebanon, as per the deal signed between the warring parties aimed at alleviating the looming global food crisis.

Governments in Kyiv and Moscow praised the development as a positive move, while the European Union, the United Nations and NATO also expressed approval and relief.

Ukraine’s infrastructure ministry said that 16 more ships, all blocked since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, were awaiting their turn in Odesa.

Infrastructure minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said Ukraine is the fourth-largest corn exporter in the world, “so the possibility of exporting it via ports is a colossal success in ensuring global food security”.

He added that the shipments would also help Ukraine’s war-shattered economy. “Unlocking ports will provide at least $1 billion (€970 million) in foreign exchange revenue to the economy and an opportunity for the agricultural sector to plan for next year,” Kubrakov said.

An agreement, signed in July after being brokered by Turkey with UN support, allows the resumption of Ukrainian exports — blocked since the start of the Russian invasion — under international supervision.

It envisages secure corridors to allow commercial ships to sail in the Black Sea and allow the export of 20 to 25 million tonnes of grain.

A crucial part of the deal is that it also allows Moscow to export its agricultural products and fertilisers, despite Western sanctions.

Kyiv, which accuses Russia of seeking to destroy the Ukrainian economy, has expressed scepticism that Moscow will stick to the accord.

“If Russia actually realises that we’re doing a good job and we’re managing to stabilise our economy, and maybe even increase some of our reserves, that’s going to mean they have every incentive to sabotage those deals yet again,” Alexander Rodnyansky, economic adviser to Ukraine’s presidency, told the BBC.

Ukraine ‘retakes 46 settlements’ in Kherson region

Ukrainian forces have retaken 46 settlements in the strategic southern region of Kherson as part of their counter-offensive, the area’s governor told state television on Monday.

Dmytro Boutry said the liberated villages are located in the northern part of the region on the border with Dnipropetrovsk and in the southern part on the border with the heavily shelled Mykolaiv region.

Some of the retaken villages “have been 90% destroyed and are still under constant fire”, he added. Describing the humanitarian situation in the region as “critical”, he reiterated the authorities’ appeal to those still in the area to “evacuate to safer areas”.

During the first days of the invasion launched in late February, Russian troops seized almost all of this strategic region bordering Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula annexed by Moscow in 2014.

But in recent weeks, the Ukrainian army, bolstered by deliveries of Western-supplied long-range artillery, has launched a counter-offensive.

Kyiv’s forces have carried out strikes against Russian warehouses and military positions and damaged bridges serving as crucial supply routes for Moscow’s troops in the city of Kherson.

Last month, a Ukrainian official promised that the Kherson region would be retaken by Ukrainian forces by September.

Russian forces took the region’s capital, Kherson, on 3 March. It was the first major city to fall to the Russians after the invasion began.

Ukraine’s southern attacks ‘slowing down’ Russia’s eastern campaign

Russia’s slow advance in the eastern Donbas region is being compromised by increased Ukrainian counter-attacks aimed at retaking territory in the Russian-occupied south, according to experts quoted by AP.

Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov noted that by stepping up the attacks in the south, Kyiv has forced Russia to spread its forces.

“The Russian military command has been put before a dilemma: to try to press the offensive in the Donetsk region or build up defenses in the south,” Zhdanov said. “It’s going to be difficult for them to perform both tasks simultaneously for a long time.”

Mykola Sunhurovsky of the Razumkov Centre, a Kyiv-based think tank, said that Western weapons had boosted Ukraine’s capabilities, allowing it to reach targets far behind the front lines with a high degree of precision.

Ukraine has received about a dozen American-built HIMARS multiple rocket launchers, which have a range of 80 kilometres, and has used them to strike Russian ammunition depots.

“It’s a serious advantage,” Sunhurovsky said. “The Ukrainians have started dealing precision strikes on Russian depots, command posts, railway stations and bridges, destroying logistical chains and undermining the Russian military capability.”

The Ukrainian strikes on munitions storage sites have caught the Russian army off guard, forcing it to move materiel to scattered locations farther from combat areas, lengthening supply lines, reducing the Russian edge in firepower and helping to slow Russia’s offensive in the east.

“They’ve got to get everything out to smaller, more dispersed stockpiles,” said Justin Crump, a former British tank commander who heads Sibylline, a strategic advisory firm. “These are all real irritants that slow Russia down.”

Crump noted that the mere prospect of a major Ukrainian counteroffensive in the south helped Kyiv by forcing the Russians to divert some of their forces from the main battleground in the east.

“That’s slowing down the Donbas offensive,” Crump said. “So even the threat of an offensive is actually succeeding for Ukraine at the moment.” 

Donetsk evacuation calls renewed as Russian shelling continues

Ukraine’s presidential office said that at least three civilians were killed and another 16 wounded by Russian shelling in the Donetsk region over the past 24 hours.

Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko repeated a call for all residents to evacuate. He particularly emphasised the need to evacuate about 52,000 children still left in the region.

In Kharkiv, two people were wounded by a Russian strike in the morning. One was wounded while waiting for a bus, and another was hurt when a Russian shell exploded near an apartment building.

The southern city of Mykolaiv also faced repeated shelling, which triggered fires near a medical facility, destroying a shipment of humanitarian aid containing medicines and food.

The city was heavily shelled again on Monday, according to the region’s governor Vitali Kim, who said three people were killed.

“The city is being destroyed. But luckily there are few dead, few injured,” he said on his Telegram account. “Everything is open, the shops are open,” the governor added, saying he even envisaged the port reopening “within two weeks”.  

One of Ukraine’s richest men, grain merchant Oleksiy Vadatursky, was killed in Mykolaiv along with his wife Raissa Vadaturska at the weekend in what Ukrainian authorities said was a carefully targeted Russian missile strike on his home. Zelenskyy paid tribute, calling the businessman a “hero of Ukraine”.

AFP journalists also saw heavy Russian shelling of the eastern Ukrainian town of Bakhmut. Local authorities said on Monday that three civilians were killed the previous day in the Donetsk region, including two in Bakhmut, and 16 others were wounded. 

France to donate DNA lab to Ukraine to aid war crimes probe, says Macron

President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday that France would donate a mobile DNA lab to Kyiv authorities to help with investigations into Russian war crimes and to try to ensure that atrocities do not go unpunished.

After a phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Macron also welcomed the departure of the first ship transporting grains from Odesa and said Europe would continue to help facilitate Ukrainian grain exports by sea and land.

The two leaders spoke by phone for an hour and a half, their first exchange since their meeting on 16 June in Kyiv, where Emmanuel Macron had visited with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

The French president again asked Zelenskyy about “his military, humanitarian and economic needs”, and confirmed France’s wish to continue supporting the Ukrainian armed forces to enable them to resist Russia’s aggression”, according to the Elysée.

He also affirmed “its willingness to provide short-term macroeconomic support” to Ukraine, without going into details.

The two presidents “agreed to continue their joint efforts to counter Russian disinformation on a global scale,” the Elysée said.

Washington to send €535 million in new weapons to Ukraine

The United States announced on Monday it would send $550-million (€535m) worth of aid in new weapons to Ukrainian forces fighting the Russian invasion, including ammunition for rocket launchers that are becoming increasingly important in the battle.

The aid will “include more ammunition for the […] HIMARS systems,” a White House spokesman, John Kirby, told reporters.

This brings the total amount of military assistance to Ukraine since President Joe Biden took office to more than $8 billion (€7.8bn), he said.

The new assistance will also include 75,000 155mm shells, the Pentagon said in a statement.

“The United States will continue to work with allies and partners to provide Ukraine with key capabilities,” the Pentagon said.

The highly mobile HIMARS system can fire GPS-guided missiles with a range of up to 80 kilometres, allowing Ukraine to reach Russian targets it previously could not.

Artillery is decisive in the conflict in Ukraine, with both armies engaged in a war of attrition. A steady supply of weapons and ammunition could prove to be the determining factor, according to experts.