Ukraine seeks funds for naval drones to counter Russian missile strikes

FILE PHOTO: German President Steinmeier and Ukraine's President Zelenskiy attend a joint news briefing in Kyiv

KYIV (Reuters) - President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Friday backed a fundraising campaign to help Ukraine build a fleet of naval drones to protect its cities against Russian missile strikes from the Black Sea.

United24, an initiative launched by Zelenskiy to raise charitable donations for Ukraine following Russia's Feb. 24 invasion, said Ukraine needed 100 drones, each of which costs 10 million hryvnias ($274,000)

Since launching its full-scale invasion, Russia has carried out missile strikes from ships in the Black Sea and from Crimea, which Moscow seized in 2014 and is home to Russia's Black Sea Fleet.

"We must defend the waters of our seas and peaceful cities from Russian missiles launched from ships," Zelenskiy wrote on the Telegram messaging app. "Naval drones will also help unblock the corridor for civilian ships transporting grain for the world."

Russia started blockading Ukraine's Black Sea ports soon after the February invasion, blocking grain exports.

Three ports were unblocked under a deal brokered in July by the United Nations and Turkey to help ease a global food crisis.

Russia suspended its participation after what it said was a Ukrainian attack on three of its Black Sea Fleet vessels late last month using aerial and naval drones, but later returned to the deal that is due to expire next week.

"I am sure that millions of people will support this important area of Ukraine's defence," Zelenskiy wrote of the naval drone fundraising campaign. "Everyone has already seen how it works."

Ukraine has not confirmed or denied it was behind the October drone attack, which a statement posted on the United24 website said was the first such strike carried out exclusively by unmanned devices.

"Russia has lost its once-undeniable advantage on the water," the statement said.

($1 = 36.5000 hryvnias)

(Reporting by Dan Peleschuk, Editing by Timothy Heritage)