Russia Strikes Odesa Hours Before Putin-Lukashenko Summit

The Ukrainian port city of Odesa came under renewed Russian missile attack early Sunday, just hours before President Vladimir Putin was due to hold a summit with his staunch Belarus ally Alexander Lukashenko.

At the meeting in Saint Petersburg, the pair plan to discuss the “strategic partnership and alliance” between their countries, according to the Kremlin.

It will be the first time they have met since Lukashenko helped end a dramatic mutiny by Russian mercenaries from the Wagner group.

Hours before their meeting, Russian strikes targeted Odesa, which has been bombed several times since the start of the invasion.

“Unfortunately, we have one civilian killed as a result of the nighttime terrorist attack by Russians on Odesa,” regional governor Oleg Kiper said on Telegram.

Earlier he had reported “18 victims, including four children”, in a Russian attack at 3:00 am (0000 GMT).

“Fourteen people were hospitalised in the city’s hospitals, three of them were children,” he said.

Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command said Odesa was targeted with at least five types of missile, including Kalibr cruise missiles.

“Air defence forces destroyed a significant amount of the missiles,” it said.

“The rest caused damage to port infrastructure,” and several buildings, it said, adding that a missile had hit the Orthodox cathedral in the city center.

The Orthodox Transfiguration Cathedral in Odesa was damaged, according to a video posted by city hall on its Telegram channel.

Nineteen people were wounded in the overnight attack, including four children, the army reported.

The strategic port has come under repeated attack since Moscow pulled out of a grain export deal last week.

Drone Attack in Crimea

The head of Ukraine’s presidential office, Andriy Yermak, repeated Kyiv’s call for more missiles and defense systems after the latest attack on Odesa.

“The enemy must be deprived of the ability to hit civilians and infrastructure. More missile defense systems, as well as ATACMS — this will help Ukraine,” he said on Telegram, referring to the long-range tactical missiles that Kyiv wants Washington to supply.

Odesa has been bombed several times since the start of the invasion, and in January the United Nations cultural agency UNESCO designated the historic center of the city as a World Heritage in Danger site.

Kyiv has accused Russia of targeting grain supplies and infrastructure vital to any resumption of Ukrainian grain exports.

Moscow has claimed it only targeted military sites.

The attack on Odesa comes a day after a Ukrainian drone strike blew up an ammunition depot in Crimea, forcing the evacuation of the surrounding population and temporary suspension of rail traffic on the peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014.

Moscow also blamed the West and Kyiv for the death of a Russian war correspondent in the southern Zaporizhzhia region, saying he was killed by cluster munitions and promising a “response” against those responsible.

The strike was aimed at “military installations,” a Ukrainian army source told AFP.

Russia’s attack on Odesa comes days after Moscow said its forces had conducted live-fire exercises using cruise missiles in the Black Sea, where tensions have risen since the expiration of a key export deal that allowed the safe shipment of grain from Ukrainian ports.

Northeast of Odesa, in the Zaporizhzhia region home to Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, Russian forces repelled “three attacks by the armed forces of Ukraine in the direction of Rabotino,” according to Russia’s TASS news agency, citing the head of the forces’ press center, Oleg Chekhov.

He said Ukrainian “tanks, infantry fighting vehicles” and personnel were “destroyed.”

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant was seized by Russian forces in the early days of the invasion.

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