For 1st time since Russia's invasion, Ukrainian grain ship leaves port of Odesa
Russia, Ukraine signed separate export agreements with Turkey and the UN
The first ship carrying Ukrainian grain set off from the port of Odesa on Monday under a deal brokered by the United Nations and Turkey that is expected to release large stores of crops to foreign markets and ease a growing food crisis.
The Sierra Leone-flagged cargo ship Razoni left Odesa carrying more than 23,000 tonnes of corn destined for Lebanon.
"The first grain ship since Russian aggression has left port," said Ukrainian Minister of Infrastructure Oleksandr Kubrakov on Twitter, posting a video of the long vessel sounding its horn as its slowly headed out to sea.
Russia and Ukraine signed agreements in Istanbul with Turkey and the UN on July 22. It cleared the way for Ukraine to export 20 million tonnes of grain and other agricultural products 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 major 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.
"Today Ukraine, together with partners, takes another step to prevent world hunger," Kubrakov said.
In Moscow, Kremlin spokesperson 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.
The Razoni was expected to dock early Wednesday in Istanbul, where teams of Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish and UN officials were set to board it for inspection.
Canada welcomes the 1st shipment of Ukrainian grain since the start of Russia’s war of choice in Ukraine.<br><br>We will continue to support the full implementation of this agreement and work to alleviate the global food crisis caused by President Putin’s war in Ukraine.—@melaniejoly
More ships are expected to leave from Ukraine's ports through the safe corridors. At Odesa, 16 more vessels, all blocked since Russia's invasion on Feb. 24, were waiting their turn, with others to follow, Ukrainian authorities said.
But some shipping companies are not yet rushing to export food across the Black Sea as they assess the danger of mines and the risk of Russian rockets hitting grain warehouses and ports.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who proposed the grain deal in April, said the Razoni was "loaded with two commodities in short supply: corn and hope ... hope for millions of people around the world who depend on the smooth running of Ukraine's ports to feed their families."
The ship departing from Odesa today must be the first of many commercial ships bringing relief to global food markets & hope for the millions of people worldwide who depend on the smooth running of Ukraine’s ports to feed their families. <a href="https://t.co/DO8mWxZ3k2">pic.twitter.com/DO8mWxZ3k2</a>—@antonioguterres
In an interview with Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar warned that the global food crisis threatens to trigger "a serious wave of migration from Africa to Europe and to Turkey."
Lebanon, the corn's destination, is in the grip of a severe financial crisis. A 2020 explosion at its main port in Beirut shattered its capital city and destroyed grain silos. Lebanon mostly imports wheat from Ukraine, but also buys its corn to make cooking oil and produce animal feed.
Kubrakov said the shipments will also 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.
Hearing the ship sound its horn as it left port delighted Olena Vitalievna, an Odesa resident.
"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."
Fighting rages on
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 retake territory in the Russian-occupied south.
Ukraine's presidential office said at least three civilians were killed and another 16 wounded by Russian shelling in the Donetsk region over the past 24 hours.
Donetsk Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko repeated a call for all residents to leave. He particularly emphasized the need to get about 52,000 children out who were still left in the region.
In Kharkiv, two people were wounded by a Russian strike in the morning: One while waiting for a bus and another when a Russian shell exploded near an apartment building.
The southern city of Mykolaiv also faced repeated shelling, which triggered fires near a medical facility, destroying a shipment of humanitarian aid containing medicines and food.
Soon after the deal was signed on July 22, a Russian missile targeted Odesa. Analysts warned the continuing fighting could threaten the grain deal.
"The danger remains: The Odesa region has faced constant shelling and only regular supplies could prove the viability of the agreements signed," said Volodymyr Sidenko, an expert with the Kyiv-based Razumkov Centre think-tank.
"The departure of the first vessel doesn't solve the food crisis, it's just the first step that could also be the last if Russia decides to continue attacks in the south."
In other developments, Russia announced sanctions against dozens of British public figures, accusing them of supporting the "demonization" and international isolation of Moscow.
The 39 politicians, businesspeople and journalists barred from entering Russia include former Prime Minister David Cameron, senior government ministers, and columnists for newspapers including the Times and the Guardian.