ACTOR TO ACTOR This photo taken and handed out by the Ukrainian President Press Service on Monday, June 20, 2022 shows Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (left) meeting with United States actor and United Nations Goodwill Envoy Ben Stiller in Kyiv. Before becoming a politician, Zelenskyy was an actor and comic. UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE PHOTO VIA AFP
ACTOR TO ACTOR This photo taken and handed out by the Ukrainian President Press Service on Monday, June 20, 2022 shows Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (left) meeting with United States actor and United Nations Goodwill Envoy Ben Stiller in Kyiv. Before becoming a politician, Zelenskyy was an actor and comic. UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE PHOTO VIA AFP

KYIV: Russia's blockade of Ukrainian grain exports sparked fresh tensions with Europe as fears of a global food crisis grow, while Kyiv accused Moscow of stepping up attacks in the country's east.

Since being repelled from the capital Kyiv and other parts of Ukraine after it launched its invasion on February 24, Russia is focusing its offensive on the eastern Donbas region.

Its navy is blockading ports, which Ukraine says is preventing millions of tons of grain from being shipped to world markets, contributing to soaring food prices.

Prior to the war, Ukraine was a major exporter of wheat, corn and sunflower oil.

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European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called the Russian blockade "a real war crime," which was happening "while in the rest of the world people are suffering [from] hunger."

Moscow denies responsibility for the disruption to deliveries and, following Borrell's comments, blamed the West's "destructive" stance for the surging grain prices.

Growing concerns about a food crisis are "the fault of Western regimes, which act as provokers and destroyers," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Maria Zakharova said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Kyiv was in "complex negotiations" to unblock grain exports, although he warned that there was no progress yet.

In an address to the African Union, he also warned that the continent was a "hostage" of the conflict, and rising food prices "have already brought [the war] to the homes of millions of African families."

With the EU set to decide at a summit this week on whether to grant Ukraine candidate status, which would allow it to vie for membership, Kyiv has warned that attacks are escalating.

Ukraine has reported losing control of the village of Metyolkine, which is adjacent to Sievierodonetsk, which has been the focus of fighting for weeks and is now largely under Russian control.

A chemical plant in that city, where hundreds of civilians are said to be sheltering, was being shelled "constantly," the Ukrainian government said.

Serhiy Gaidai, governor of the Luhansk region that includes Sievierodonetsk, said the situation on the frontlines was "extremely tough."

"Every town and village under Ukrainian control in the Luhansk region is under almost nonstop fire," he said on Ukrainian television.

He also said in a statement on social media that Russia was heavily shelling Lysychansk — which sits across a river from Sievierodonetsk — adding that there was "catastrophic destruction."

Three people were injured and seven more missing after Ukrainian forces attacked oil drilling platforms in the Black Sea, off the coast of Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014, Moscow-backed Crimea leader Sergey Aksyonov said.

It was the first reported strike against offshore energy infrastructure in Crimea since the invasion began.

In the southern Kherson region — which borders Crimea and was occupied by Russian forces in the early days of the Kremlin's offensive — Russian TV was now broadcasting, Moscow's army said.

Russia has already introduced the ruble and begun distributing Russian passports in the territory, and a pro-Moscow official said on Tuesday it could join Russia "before the end of the year."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told NBC News that two Americans captured in Ukraine while fighting with Kyiv's military were "endangering" Russian soldiers and should be "held accountable for those crimes."

The interview is the first time the Kremlin has commented on the cases of Alexander Drueke and Andy Huynh, both US military veterans, according to NBC.

Meanwhile, Denmark became the latest European country to warn of potential gas supply problems when its energy agency issued an early warning, as Moscow reduces supplies in response to sanctions.

In a lighter moment, Hollywood star Ben Stiller met Zelenskyy in Kyiv, hailing the comedian-turned-president as "my hero."

"What you've done, the way that you've rallied the country, the world, it's really inspiring," said the 56-year-old, best known for roles in "Meet the Parents," "Zoolander" and "Night at the Museum."