Kyiv moves closer to grain exports
Ukraine said yesterday it had restarted operations at its blockaded Black Sea ports as it moved closer to resuming grain exports with the opening of a coordination centre to oversee a UN-backed deal.
Progress towards fulfilling the landmark agreement came as Kyiv's artillery struck a key bridge in Moscow-controlled territory in south Ukraine, damaging an important supply route as Ukrainian forces look to wrest back the Kherson region.
German authorities said Russia's state giant Gazprom drastically cut gas deliveries to Europe via the Nord Stream pipeline to about 20 percent of capacity in a move decried in the EU as revenge for Western sanctions over the invasion.
Ukraine and Russia last week agreed a plan with the help of Turkey and the United Nations to allow grain stranded by Moscow's naval blockade to be exported from three ports.
Kyiv has said it hopes to begin sending out the first of millions of tonnes of grain "this week" despite a missile strike by Russia over the weekend on the port in Odessa.
Ukraine's navy said "work has resumed" at the export hubs to prepare for ships to be escorted through the mine-infested waters to reach world markets.
As part of the deal, a coordination centre involving Ukrainian and Russian representatives opened in Istanbul to monitor the safe passage for shipping along established routes and oversee inspections for banned weapons.
The blockage of deliveries from two of the world's biggest grain exporters has contributed to a spike in prices that has made food imports prohibitively expensive for some of the world's poorest countries.
Fighting has continued to rage on the ground in Ukraine despite the push to get the grain out, and Kyiv struck back by hitting the vital Antonivskiy bridge over the Dnipro river in a move that threatens to cut supply lines to Russian troops.
Kirill Stremousov, the deputy head of the Russian-installed regional administration in Kherson, confirmed the bridge had been hit overnight and traffic had been halted.
"Occupiers should learn how to swim across the Dnipro River. Or should leave Kherson while it is still possible," tweeted Mikhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
In the bludgeoned Donetsk region to the east -- a key focus of Russia's war -- AFP journalists saw a house hit in an intense artillery exchange around the ravaged frontline city of Bakhmut.
Ukraine's emergency services said that Russian artillery had hit a hotel in Bakhmut, leaving two people dead and three injured.
Deepening an energy crisis in Europe sparked by the war, Germany's energy regulator said gas flows via the key Nord Stream pipeline had dropped to 20 percent of capacity from 40 percent yesterday.
EU states have rejected Gazprom's claims of technical problems and accuse the Kremlin of squeezing supplies in retaliation for Western sanctions over Moscow's war in Ukraine.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov blamed EU sanctions for the limited supply.
But Berlin has dismissed the explanation and government spokeswoman Christiane Hoffmann called the reductions a "power play" by Moscow.