Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during his visit to Zaporizhzhia region, the site of fierce battles with the Russian troops in Ukraine, Feb. 4, 2024.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during his visit to Zaporizhzhia region, the site of fierce battles with the Russian troops in Ukraine, Feb. 4, 2024. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office)

KYIV — A Russian missile strike appeared to target Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday, landing near his motorcade in the Black Sea port city of Odesa, where the president was meeting with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

Zelenskyy and members of the Greek delegation were not harmed, despite the missile landing some 500 feet away, Greek officials told the Protothema news outlet. The Ukrainian presidential office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Foreign leaders have made frequent trips to Ukraine throughout the country’s two years of war with Russia, and this isn’t the first time there has been a strike on a city at the same time as one’s visit. But Wednesday’s incident stood out for how close the missile strike was to both Zelenskyy and Mitsotakis — what some Western leaders condemned as a new low for Moscow, which has committed thousands of atrocities against civilians throughout its invasion.

European Council President Charles Michel wrote on X that the attack was “another sign of Russia’s cowardly tactics in its war of aggression against Ukraine.”

“This is reprehensible and below even the Kremlin’s playbook,” Michel added.

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, said on X: “No one is intimidated by this new attempt at terror — certainly not the two leaders on the ground nor the brave people of Ukraine. More than ever, we stand by Ukraine.”

Zelenskyy and Mitsotakis were visiting the Odesa port when, about 10:40 a.m., air raid sirens were heard. The explosion then occurred within minutes.

“We witnessed the strike today,” Zelenskyy told reporters afterward. “You see who we’re dealing with; they don’t care where to hit. I know there were casualties today; I don’t know all the details yet, but I know there are casualties.”

“Whether they are military, civilians, international guests — it doesn’t matter to these people,” he added. “Either they’ve lost their minds, or they have no control over their terrorist army’s actions. This emphasizes the need for us to defend ourselves, and the best way is through an air defense system.”

Dmytro Pletenchuk, a spokesman for Ukraine’s navy, said there were five deaths and other injuries as a result of the strike on port infrastructure. “Investigative actions are ongoing,” he said.

Zelenskyy has frequently traveled throughout Ukraine during the war and has often visited front-line locations at great risk. But Wednesday would mark one of the closest calls for both the president and a visiting foreign leader. Nearly two years earlier, in May 2022, it was Michel who was scrambling for cover in Odesa during another missile strike.

On Wednesday, Mitsotakis was quoted by the Ukrainian state broadcaster as saying, “We heard the sound of sirens and explosions that were very close to us. We didn’t have time to go to a safe place.

“It was a very striking experience,” Mitsotakis added. “We understand that this war concerns everyone; there are no people who are outside of the war. War spares no one, and Ukraine is resisting barbaric force. It’s different to read about the war in the newspaper and to feel it, to hear it with your own ears.”

Odesa has been particularly hard-hit in recent days, and Zelenskyy has pointed to delays by allies in supplying air defense as contributing to the rising toll of civilian deaths in the city. Over the weekend, a Russian attack on an apartment building killed 12, including five children. Zelenskyy and Mitsotakis visited the site of the March 2 strike, each laying a bouquet of flowers at a makeshift memorial in front of the building.

Because drones and missiles heading for Odesa are typically launched from the nearby occupied Crimean Peninsula, also on the Black Sea, people there typically have little time to seek shelter after an air alert is declared.

The city, which has deep symbolic significance for imperial Russians, is also an economic lifeline for Ukraine with its busiest port. Ukraine has continued to export grain out of Odesa despite Russia last year exiting a deal that allowed cargo ships safe passage to sail along a corridor in the Black Sea.

“The world has enough missile defense systems, systems to protect against Shahed drones and missiles,” Zelenskyy said in a recent address on his social media, referring to Iranian-made attack drones used by Russia. “And delaying the supply of weapons to Ukraine, missile defense systems to protect our people, leads, unfortunately, to such losses.”

Though Zelenskyy didn’t specifically refer to the United States, Ukraine’s largest donor of weapons, a new security assistance package from Washington has been stalled in Congress for months.

Hours after the strike on Odesa, shelling struck a shopping center in the southeastern Ukrainian city of Nikopol, causing a large fire to break out. The number of casualties was still unclear.

Serhii Korolchuk in Kyiv and John Hudson in Washington contributed to this report.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now