Kyiv, Ukraine –
The first ship carrying Ukrainian grain left the port of Odessa on Monday under a deal brokered by the United Nations and Turkey that is expected to release large quantities of Ukrainian crops to foreign markets and ease the growing food crisis.
The freighter Razoni, flying the flag of Sierra Leone, left Odessa with more than 26,000 tons of corn bound for Lebanon.
“The first grain ship since the Russian aggression has left the port,” Ukraine’s Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said on Twitter, posting a video of the long ship honking its horn as it slowly headed out to sea.
In a separate Facebook post, Kubrakov said that Ukraine is the world’s fourth largest exporter of corn, “so the possibility of exporting it through ports is a colossal success in ensuring global food security.”
“Today Ukraine, together with its partners, takes another step to prevent world hunger,” he added.
In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov hailed the ship’s departure as “very positive” and said it would help test the “efficiency of the mechanisms that were agreed upon during talks in Istanbul.”
Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said the Razoni was expected to dock Tuesday afternoon in Istanbul at the entrance to the Bosphorus, where joint teams of Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish and UN officials would board it for inspections. .
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 Turkey.”
The corn is destined for Lebanon, a Middle Eastern nation in the midst 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 ripped apart its capital city and destroyed grain silos there, a portion of which collapsed after a week-long fire on Sunday.
Lebanon mainly imports wheat from the Ukraine, but also buys its corn to make cooking oil and to produce animal feed.
The Turkish Defense Ministry said other ships would also depart from Ukrainian ports through safe corridors in accordance with agreements signed in Istanbul on July 22, but did not provide further details.
Russia and Ukraine signed separate agreements with Turkey and the UN that pave the way for Ukraine, one of the world’s leading breadbaskets, to export 22 million tons of grain and other agricultural products that have been stuck in Black Sea ports due to to the invasion of Russia.
The agreements also allow Russia to export grain and fertilizers.
Turkey’s defense minister hailed a joint coordination center made up of Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish and UN officials as a place where opposing sides can interact with each other.
“The problems they have are obvious, there is a war going on. But it is the only place where the two sides can come together,” Akar said. “Despite the ups and downs, there is a good atmosphere for dialogue.”
Ukraine’s Infrastructure Ministry said 16 more ships, all blocked since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, were waiting their turn in Odessa ports.
Kubrakov said the shipments would also help Ukraine’s war-torn economy.
“Unblocking ports will provide at least $1 billion in foreign exchange earnings to the economy and an opportunity for the agricultural sector to plan for the coming year,” Kubrakov said.
The United Nations welcomed the development, saying in a statement that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres hopes the shipments “bring much-needed stability and relief to global food security, especially in the most fragile humanitarian contexts.”
After more than five months of war, the sound of the horn of the cargo ship that went to sea delighted Olena Vitalievna, a resident of the city.
“Finally, life starts to move forward and there are some changes in a positive direction,” he said. “In general, the port must live its own life because Odessa is a port city. We live here, we want everything to work for us, everything to move.”
However, the resumption of grain shipments came as fighting raged elsewhere in Ukraine.
Ukraine’s presidential office said at least three civilians were killed and 16 others wounded by Russian shelling in the Donetsk region over the past 24 hours.
Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko repeated a call to evacuate all residents, stressing the need to evacuate some 52,000 children still left in the region.
In Kharkiv, two people were injured in a Russian attack in the morning, one who was hit while waiting for a bus and the other when a Russian shell exploded near an apartment building.
The southern city of Mykolaiv also faced repeated shelling that ruined a hospital unit building and damaged ambulances, according to Gov. Vitaliy Kim. Three civilians were injured in Russian shelling in other parts of the city, he said.
Shortly after the grain shipment agreement was signed on July 22, a Russian missile targeted Odessa. Analysts warned that continued fighting could threaten the grain deal.
“The danger remains: the Odessa region has faced constant shelling and only regular supplies could prove the feasibility of the agreements signed,” said Volodymyr Sidenko, an expert at the Kyiv-based Razumkov Center think tank.
“The departure of the first ship does not solve the food crisis, it is only the first step that could also be the last if Russia decides to continue with the attacks in the south.”
Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey. Jon Gambrell in Dubai contributed.