The first ship to carry Ukrainian grain across the Black Sea since Russia invaded Ukraine five months ago left the port of Odessa for Lebanon on Monday under a safe passage deal described as a glimmer of hope in a worsening global food crisis.
The sailing was made possible after Turkey and the United Nations brokered a grain and fertilizer export deal between Russia and Ukraine last month – a rare diplomatic breakthrough in a dispute that has become a long one. war of attrition.
The Razoni ship, flying the flag of Sierra Leone, will head for the port of Tripoli, Lebanon, after transiting through Turkey’s Bosphorus Strait linking the Russian Navy-dominated Black Sea to the Mediterranean. It carries 26,527 tonnes of corn.
But there are still hurdles to overcome before millions of tonnes of Ukrainian grain leave its Black Sea ports, including clearing sea mines and creating a framework for ships to safely enter the conflict zone and recover the cargoes.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24 led to a global food and fuel crisis and the United Nations has warned of the risk of multiple famines this year.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he hoped Tuesday’s departure would be the first of many such shipments and that the UN would charter a ship to replenish the aid.
“People on the brink of starvation need these deals to work, to survive,” Guterres told reporters in New York.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called it “a day of relief for the world, especially for our friends in the Middle East, Asia and Africa”.
Ukraine, known as Europe’s breadbasket, hopes to export 20 million tonnes of grain in silos and 40 million tonnes of the current harvest, initially from Odessa and nearby Pivdennyi and Chornomorsk, to help clean the silos for the new crop.
Moscow has denied responsibility for the food crisis, saying Western sanctions have slowed its exports and accusing Ukraine of laying underwater mines at the entrance to its ports. The Kremlin called Razoni’s departure “very positive news”.
Trade from Russia’s Black Sea ports picked up in mid-May after plummeting in April, although it has fallen slightly in recent weeks, according to VesselsValue, a London-based maritime intelligence provider.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said the ship would drop anchor off Istanbul on Tuesday afternoon and be inspected by Russian, Ukrainian, United Nations and Turkish officials.
“It will then continue as long as no problems arise,” Akar said.
Prior to the Razoni’s departure, Ukrainian officials said 17 ships were docked in Black Sea ports with nearly 600,000 tons of cargo, mostly grain. Countries expressed the hope that others would follow.
“It’s a beacon of hope in a worsening food crisis,” a German foreign ministry spokesman told a government briefing.
An agricultural tool harvests in a wheat field outside the city center, as the Russian-Ukrainian war continues in Zolochiv, Lviv oblast, Ukraine, August 1, 2022. Source: Getty / Anadolu Agency/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
A young ship’s engineer, Abdullah Jendi, said the crew were happy to move after their extended stay in Odessa and that he, a Syrian, had not seen his family for over a year.
“It’s an indescribable feeling to return to my home country after suffering from the siege and the dangers we faced from the bombings,” he said.
He said he was afraid the ship might hit a mine within hours it would take to leave regional waters.
The US Embassy in Kyiv also welcomed the resumption of shipping and said the world will be watching for more. Wheat and corn prices in Chicago fell on hopes that grain exports from Ukraine could resume on a large scale.
Key provisions, including shipping procedures, still need to be worked out before empty ships can enter and collect cargo from Ukraine using the new corridor, Neil Roberts, head of marine insurance and airline at Lloyds Market Association.
“There’s a long way to go,” Roberts said.
A Ukrainian man is seen examining his destroyed house, which was reduced to ashes in the fire caused by the shelling, as the Russian-Ukrainian war continues in Opytne, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, on August 1, 2022. Source: Getty / Anadolu Agency/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Bombings in the south and east
As fighting still rages, three civilians were reportedly killed by Russian shelling in the eastern Donetsk region – two in Bakhmut and one in nearby Soledar – in the past 24 hours, regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said.
An industrial city and transport hub, Bakhmut has been under Russian bombardment for a week as Kremlin forces attempt to occupy all of Donetsk after seizing most of neighboring Luhansk last month.
Russian strikes also hit Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city and near the border with Russia, regional governor Oleh Synegubov said. Two civilians were injured, he said.
After failing to capture the capital Kyiv at the start of the war, Russia aims to capture the eastern region of Donbass, consisting of Donetsk and Luhansk, which were partially occupied by Russian-backed separatists before the invasion. It also aimed to capture more of the south, where it annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
Ukraine, which has launched a counter-offensive in the south, continues to ask the West for more long-range artillery as it tries to turn the tide of the conflict. The country has received billions of dollars in military aid and Western weapons since the start of the war.
Ukraine’s defense minister said Kyiv received four more American-made HIMARS rocket systems from the United States. The Pentagon has said it will supply Ukraine with more HIMARS ammunition under a lethal aid package valued at $550 million.
Moscow says Western arms supplies to Ukraine only prolong the conflict and supplying longer-range weapons justifies Russia’s attempts to expand control over more Ukrainian territory for its own protection .
Russia invaded Ukraine in what it called a “special operation” to demilitarize its neighbor. Ukraine and Western nations dismissed this as a baseless pretext for war.