Grain ship leaves key Ukrainian port for first time since early days of war

The M/V Razoni became the first commercial vessel to leave the crucial Black Sea port since February 26, two days after Russia launched its assault on Ukraine.

It is bound for the port of Tripoli, Lebanon, and is carrying a cargo of about 26,500 metric tons (more than 29,000 US tons) of maize, the United Nations said.

The trip comes after a landmark agreement, brokered by the UN and Turkey and signed by representatives of Russia and Ukraine in July, which facilitates the resumption of vital grain exports. Some 20 million metric tons of wheat and corn have been trapped in the port of Odessa, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Samantha Power said last week.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called Monday “a day of relief for the world, especially for our friends in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.”

Under terms of the agreement, the ship will drop anchor off Istanbul at around 3 p.m. local time (8 a.m. ET) on Tuesday, where it will be inspected before sailing to its final destination.

Since the early days of the war, ports in southern Ukraine have been blockaded by Russia, preventing Ukrainian grain from traveling to the many countries that depend on it.

The agreement reached on July 23 promised to unblock the ports of the Black Sea to allow the safe passage of grains and oilseeds, following the routes identified by Ukrainian maritime pilots to avoid mines, and with stops in Istanbul to ensure weapons are not smuggled back into the country .
It followed months of diplomacy and raised hopes around the world – but the deal’s stability was tested within hours when Russian airstrikes hit Odessa.
Why are Ukrainian grain exports so important and how will the deal work?

Senior Western diplomats reacted with cautious optimism after Monday’s departure, welcoming the resumption of grain exports but urging Russia to stick to the deal.

“This is such an important step but this is a first step,” British Ambassador to Kyiv Melinda Simmons tweeted on Monday. “[Russia] must now honor its part of that deal and allow the grain ships to pass safely. And they gotta stop burning and taking ownership [Ukrainian] grain.”

“The world will be watching the continued implementation of this agreement to feed people around the world with millions of tons of trapped Ukrainian grain,” the US Embassy in Kyiv added.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday that the cargo’s departure was “very positive.”

“This is a good opportunity to test the effectiveness of the mechanisms that were agreed during the Istanbul talks,” he said.

No additional grain shipments are expected to leave Ukraine’s Black Sea ports on Monday, the Joint Coordination Center (JCC) in Istanbul said. The JCC will oversee the export of Ukrainian grain. According to the center, dates and times for additional shipments are still being worked out and will likely not be finalized until the first shipment is inspected in Istanbul on Tuesday.

The ship is expected to arrive in Istanbul for inspections, before heading to Lebanon.

Both Ukraine and Russia are major food suppliers to the world. Normally, Ukraine would export about three-quarters of the grain it produces. According to data from the European Commission, around 90% of these exports were shipped by sea from Black Sea ports.

The UN hopes that under the agreement, a monthly export of 5 million US tons of grain would leave ports each month, a figure comparable to pre-war levels.

But despite the optimism surrounding the deal, the Russian invasion still significantly affected Ukraine’s harvest.

Last month, Ukraine’s Grain Traders’ Union said it expected a grain and oilseed harvest of 69.4 million tonnes, slightly higher than earlier forecast but well below the 106 million tonnes harvested. last year.