KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — A civilian cargo ship struck a Russian mine in the Black Sea near Ukraine’s Danube ports Thursday, injuring two sailors, officials and analysts said, in an incident that underscored the dangers faced by those exporting Ukrainian grain during the war.

The Panama-flagged vessel struck the floating mine during stormy weather as it went to pick up grain, according to Ukraine’s Southern Defense Forces, adding that churning seas often increase the risk from mines.

As the fighting grinds on through the winter and likely into a third year after Russia’s February 2022 invasion, and with little recent change along the front line, Ukraine is aiming to strengthen its financial resources for what could be a protracted war.

After Russia pulled out of a U.N.-brokered export agreement last summer, Ukraine launched a new Black Sea shipping corridor to get grain, metals and other cargo to world markets. That has given a boost to Ukraine’s agriculture-dependent economy.

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The mine incident occurred about 130 kilometers (80 miles) southwest of Chornomorsk, which is near Odesa on Ukraine’s southern coast, the Ambrey maritime risk analysis company said. The ship with 18 crew was on its way to Izmail, another port in the area.

The mine detonated at the ship’s stern, causing equipment and machinery failure and resulting in the vessel losing power, Ambrey said. The captain reportedly maneuvered into shallow water to prevent the ship from sinking.

Ukraine’s much-anticipated counteroffensive last summer largely failed to shift the front line despite billions of dollars in weaponry sent by its Western allies. That has given confidence to the Kremlin’s forces, especially as further Western aid is in question.

One think tank argues that the front line is not currently “a stable stalemate.” The Institute for the Study of War in Washington said in an assessment late Wednesday that “the current balance can be tipped in either direction by decisions made in the West or in Russia, and limited Russian gains could become significant especially if the West cuts off military aid to Ukraine.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov suggested that the U.S. and European Union countries plan to continue sending help to Kyiv.

“Neither Washington nor Brussels refrain from assisting the Kyiv regime (Ukrainian government) because they realize it would be doomed without such assistance,” Lavrov said in an interview with state news agency Tass that was released on Thursday. “They remain committed to containing Russia at the expense of Ukrainians and their lives.”


Jim Heintz in Tallinn, Estonia contributed.


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