Ukraine grain shipment 'still nothing' amid shattered economy, Zelenskyy says
Former German chancellor says grain deal could be expanded to a ceasefire
Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy dismissed the importance of the first grain export shipment from his country since Russia invaded, saying it was carrying a fraction of the crop Kyiv must sell to help salvage its shattered economy.
His downbeat comments, via video to students in Australia on Wednesday, came as an inspection of the ship was completed in Turkey before it continued to its final destination in Lebanon under a deal aimed at easing a global food crisis.
The ship, Razoni, departed from Ukraine's Odesa port on the Black Sea early on Monday, carrying 26,527 tonnes of corn to Lebanon's Tripoli. It followed a UN-brokered grain and fertilizer export agreement between Moscow and Kyiv last month — a rare diplomatic breakthrough in a drawn-out war of attrition.
But Zelenskyy, speaking via an interpreter, said more time was needed to see whether other grain shipments would follow.
"Just recently, thanks to the UN in partnership with Turkey, we had a first ship with the delivery of grain, but it's still nothing. But we hope it's a tendency that will continue," he told the students.
He said Ukraine had to export a minimum 10 million tonnes of grain to urgently help bring down its budget deficit, which was running at $5 billion US a month.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed the first grain shipment but also said it was "only a first step."
A senior Turkish official said three ships could leave Ukrainian ports daily after the Razoni's departure, while Ukraine's infrastructure minister said 17 more ships had been loaded with agricultural produce and were waiting to set sail.
War 'almost killing the economy'
Known as Europe's breadbasket, Ukraine hopes to export 20 million tonnes of grain held in silos and 40 million tonnes from the harvest now underway, initially from Odesa and nearby Pivdennyi and Chornomorsk.
"The war ... is almost killing the economy. It's in a coma," Zelenskyy added. "Russia's blocking of the ports is a great loss for the economy.
Zelenskyy has repeatedly warned that Moscow may try to obstruct exports despite signing up to last month's deal.
Schroeder says Kremlin wants 'negotiated solution'
Russia, which blockaded Ukraine's ports after beginning on Feb. 24 what it called "a special military operation," has said it wants to see more done to facilitate the exports of its own grain and fertilizers. But it has hailed the departure of the first grain ship from Ukraine as positive.
It has denied responsibility for the food crisis, saying sanctions by the West, which regards the war as an unprovoked imperial-style Russian land grab, have slowed Ukraine's exports.
The exports from Ukraine, one of the world's top grain producers, are intended to ease price rises and shortages, with famine looming in some parts of the world.
Former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, a friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said the grain deal might offer a way forward out of conflict.
"The good news is that the Kremlin wants a negotiated solution," Schroeder told the German publication Stern weekly and broadcasters RTL/ntv on Wednesday, adding he had met Putin in Moscow last week.
"A first success is the grain deal, perhaps that can be slowly expanded to a ceasefire."
Supermarket, other businesses hit in Mykolaiv
Meanwhile, Russian forces kept up their bombardment of the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv, shelling it on Tuesday night and before dawn on Wednesday, said governor of the Mykolaiv region, Vitaliy Kim.
The shelling damaged a pier, an industrial enterprise, residential buildings, a garage co-operative, a supermarket and a pharmacy, Kim said.
Mykolaiv is a southern port city on the Black Sea. The Russians said in April they wanted control over not just eastern, but southern Ukraine, cutting off the country from its Black Sea coast and creating a possible land corridor to the breakaway Moldovan region of Transnistria.
The mayor of Mykolaiv, Oleksandr Sienkevych, told The Associated Press that 131 civilians, including a child, have died so far in the city from Russian rocket and artillery shelling and 590 others were seriously injured, including seven children.
With files from The Associated Press