First ship carrying Ukrainian grain leaves Odesa even as fighting rages elsewhere
The first ship carrying Ukrainian grain set out Monday from the port of Odesa under an internationally brokered deal to unblock the embattled country’s agricultural exports and ease a growing global food crisis.
The Sierra Leone-flagged cargo ship Razoni sounded its horn as it slowly departed with more than 26,000 tons of corn destined for Lebanon.
“The first grain ship since Russian aggression has left port,” Ukrainian Minister of Infrastructure Oleksandr Kubrakov said on Twitter, posting a video of the long cargo ship as it headed out to sea.
Russia and Ukraine signed agreements in Istanbul with Turkey and the United Nations on July 22, clearing the way for Ukraine to export 22 million tons of grain and other agricultural goods that have been stuck in Black Sea ports because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine more than five months ago. The deals also allow Russia to export grain and fertilizer.
As part of the agreements, safe corridors through the mined waters outside Ukraine’s ports were established.
Ukraine and Russia are key global suppliers of wheat, barley, corn and sunflower oil, with the fertile Black Sea region long known as the breadbasket of Europe. The holdup of food shipments because of the war has worsened rising food prices worldwide and threatened hunger and political instability in developing nations.
The old imperial city of Odesa is infused with Russian history. But war has cemented its Ukrainian identity.
“Today Ukraine, together with partners, takes another step to prevent world hunger,” Kubrakov said.
In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov hailed the ship’s departure as “very positive,” saying it would help test the “efficiency of the mechanisms that were agreed during the talks in Istanbul.”
Under the agreements, ships going in and out of Ukrainian ports will be subject to inspection to make sure that incoming vessels are not carrying weapons and that outgoing ones are bearing only grain, fertilizer or related food items, not any other commodities.
Turkey’s defense minister, Hulusi Akar, said the Razoni was expected to dock Tuesday afternoon in Istanbul at the entrance of the Bosphorus, where joint teams of Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish and U.N. officials would board it for inspections.
Russia’s attack on Odesa came less than a day after Russia and Ukraine signed an agreement on resuming grain shipments from there.
The Turkish defense ministry said other ships would also depart Ukraine’s ports through the safe corridors. Ukraine’s infrastructure ministry said that 16 more ships, all blocked from leaving since the beginning of Russia’s invasion Feb. 24, were waiting their turn in the ports of Odesa.
But some shipping companies are not yet rushing to export food across the Black Sea as they assess the danger of mines in the waters and the risk of Russian rockets hitting grain warehouses and ports.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he hoped the shipments would “bring much-needed stability and relief to global food security especially in the most fragile humanitarian contexts.”
In an interview with Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency, Akar warned that the global food crisis threatened to trigger “a serious wave of migration from Africa to Europe and to Turkey.”
The corn will then head to Lebanon, which is in the grips of what the World Bank has described as one of the world’s worst financial crises in more than 150 years. A 2020 explosion at its main port in Beirut shattered its capital city and destroyed grain silos. Lebanon imports mostly wheat from Ukraine but also buys its corn to make cooking oil and to produce animal feed.
Kubrakov said the shipments would help Ukraine’s war-shattered economy.
“Unlocking ports will provide at least $1 billion in foreign exchange revenue to the economy and an opportunity for the agricultural sector to plan for next year,” Kubrakov said.
After more than five months of war, the horn of the cargo ship sounding as it set out to sea delighted Olena Vitalievna, an Odesa resident.
Civilians who managed to flee eastern Ukraine say intensified shelling over the past week left them unable to even venture out from bomb shelters.
“Finally, life begins to move forward and there are some changes in a positive direction,” she said. “In general, the port should live its own life because Odesa is a port city. We live here, we want everything to work for us, everything to bustle.”
The resumption of the grain shipments came as fighting raged elsewhere in Ukraine, with Russia pressing its offensive in the east while Ukraine tries to reclaim territory in the Russian-occupied south.
Ukraine’s presidential office said that at least three civilians were killed and another 16 were wounded by Russian shelling in the Donetsk region over the last 24 hours.
Donetsk Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko repeated a strong call for all residents to evacuate. He particularly emphasized the need to evacuate about 52,000 children still left in the region.
Ukrainian forces are scaling up attacks to reclaim territory in the south, forcing Russia to divert fighters from the main battlefront in the east.
In Kharkiv, two people were wounded by a Russian strike Monday morning. One was wounded while waiting for a bus at a stop, and another was hurt when a Russian shell exploded near an apartment building.
The southern city of Mykolaiv also faced repeated shelling that ruined a hospital building and damaged ambulances, according to Gov. Vitaliy Kim. Three civilians were wounded in Russian shelling elsewhere in the city, he said.
Soon after the grain shipment deal was signed July 22, a Russian missile targeted Odesa. Analysts warned that the continuing fighting could threaten the grain pact.
“The departure of the first vessel doesn’t solve the food crisis,” said Volodymyr Sidenko, an expert with the Razumkov Center, a Kyiv-based think tank. “It’s just the first step that could also be the last if Russia decides to continue attacks in the south.”
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