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335431

WRAPUP 6-Grain ships sail from Ukraine ports as Russian missiles knock out power across country

(Adds Zelenskiy, British minister, end to Russian mobilisation)

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Missiles hit Kyiv, other cities, causing power, water outages

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Russia suspends role in grain deal after saying its ships hit

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Kremlin says it can no longer guarantee safety of shipping

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Ukraine, West accuse Moscow of using food as weapon

By Pavel Polityuk

KYIV, Oct 31 (Reuters) - Ships carrying grain sailed from Ukrainian ports on Monday, suggesting Moscow had stopped short of reimposing a blockade despite suspending its participation in a U.N. programme to safely such exports from the war zone.

On the 250th day of the war, Russian missiles rained down across Ukraine. Explosions boomed out in Kyiv, sending black smoke into the sky.

Ukrainian officials said energy infrastructure was hit including at hydro-electric dams, knocking out power, heat and water supplies.

Ukraine's military said it had shot down 44 of 50 Russian missiles. But strikes left 80% of Kyiv without running water, authorities said. Ukrainian police said 13 people were injured in the latest attacks.

Still, the resumption of food exports from Ukrainian ports suggested that the dire prospect of rising world hunger had been averted for now. International officials had feared that Moscow would reimpose a blockade on Ukrainian grain, after Russia announced on Saturday that it was suspending its role in the U.N.-backed programme that escorts cargo ships through the Black Sea.

"Civilian cargo ships can never be a military target or held hostage. The food must flow," tweeted Amir Abdullah, the U.N. official who coordinates the programme.

Shortly afterwards, Ukraine confirmed that 12 ships had set sail. The 354,500 tonnes of grain they carried was the most in a day since the programme began.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Kyiv would continue implementing the U.N. programme "as we have agreed" with the United Nations and Turkey.

Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar discussed the issue with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu in a phone call on Monday. Akar told Shoigu it was very important for the grain deal to continue, the Turkish defence ministry said.

But shipments could be interrupted again, not least if insurers stop underwriting them.

Chris McGill, head of cargo at Lloyd's of London insurer Ascot, which has underwritten many of the shipments so far, told Reuters his company was

pausing

writing new cover for shipments from Monday until it understood the situation better.

Insurance previously issued "still stands", he said.

MISSILE STRIKES

Russia's missile strikes during the Monday morning rush hour repeated a tactic it has pursued this month of targeting Ukrainian civilian infrastructure, especially power stations.

The U.S. ambassador to Kyiv, Bridget Brink, tweeted: "Like millions of Ukrainians, our @USEmbassyKyiv team is once again taking shelter as Russia continues its callous and barbaric missile strikes on the people of Ukraine in an effort to leave the country cold and dark as we approach winter."

For the past three weeks, Russia has been conducting a campaign of attacks on Ukrainian civil infrastructure using expensive long-range missiles and cheap Iranian-made "suicide drones" that fly at a target and detonate.

Ukraine's Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said 18 targets, mostly energy infrastructure, were hit in missile and drone strikes on 10 Ukrainian regions on Monday.

In Ukraine's second largest city Kharkiv, the strikes had caused a blackout that left trolleybus driver Ihor Polovikov stranded in his electric cable-powered vehicle.

He was fed up, he said, adding: "But nobody will give up just like that. We got used to it, it's the ninth month. Everyone has understood that this is necessary."

HUNGER AVERTED

Moscow said it was forced to pull out of the Black Sea grain shipping deal after blaming Kyiv for blasts that damaged Russian navy ships in the Crimean port of Sevastopol on Saturday.

Ukraine has neither confirmed nor denied it was behind the explosions that hit the Crimea base of Russia's Black Sea Fleet, but says Russia's navy is a legitimate military target. Moscow said the blasts were caused by a wave of sea and air drones.

After Russia suspended its participation in the grain shipping programme, the United States accused Russia of using food as a weapon. President Zelenskiy said Moscow was "blackmailing the world with hunger". Russia denies that is its aim.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the U.N.-brokered deal was "hardly feasible" since Russia could no longer guarantee the safety of shipping. He did not specify why shipments would now be unsafe.

But Monday's resumption of Ukrainian grain shipments suggested Moscow was not attempting to impose a new blockade.

Ukraine and Russia are both among the world's largest exporters of food. For three months, the U.N.-backed deal has guaranteed Ukrainian exports can reach markets, lifting a Russian de facto blockade. The news that Moscow was pulling out of the deal had sent global wheat prices soaring by more than 5% on Monday morning.

The ships that sailed on Monday included one hired by the U.N. World Food Programme to bring 40,000 tonnes of grain to drought-hit Africa.

Also on Monday, the Russian Defence Ministry said Moscow had completed the partial military mobilisation announced by President Vladimir Putin in September and no further call-up notices would be issued.

Putin announced Russia's first mobilisation since World War Two on Sept. 21, one of a series of escalatory measures in response to Ukrainian gains on the battlefield.

Defence Minister Shoigu said at the time that some 300,000 additional personnel would be drafted. But the mobilisation has proceeded chaotically and hundreds of thousands have fled Russia to avoid being drafted.

Russia still holds large swathes of southern and eastern Ukraine, but has lost ground in recent months.

In London, British foreign minister James Cleverly said Russia would face severe consequences if Moscow uses nuclear weapons in Ukraine. Speaking in parliament, he also said Britain would provide Kyiv with more support to repair its energy infrastructure.

(Reporting by Reuters bureaux, additional reporting by Jonathan Saul in London; Writing by Peter Graff and Angus MacSwan; Editing by Gareth Jones and Alex Richardson)

© Copyright Thomson Reuters 2022. Click For Restrictions - http://about.reuters.com/fulllegal.asp

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