Odessa, Ukraine – The first shipments of grain since the start of the war in Ukraine have been loaded onto cargo ships in Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea, in preparation for their first voyages in more than five months.
President Volodymyr Zelensky and representatives of the Group of Seven industrialized nations visited Chernomorsk, one of the three, on Friday, and said they were ready for the grain to go to countries with severe food shortages.
The visit comes less than a week after Russian cruise missiles landed in the nearby port of Odessa, threatening to cancel a deal brokered by the United Nations and Turkey to allow Ukraine to start exporting grain. Ukrainian ports have been closed by a Russian naval blockade of the Black Sea since troops invaded the country on February 24.
In his Friday evening address, Mr. Zelensky reiterated that Ukraine was ready.
“Concrete work to restore Ukrainian grain exports began today in Odessa,” he said, adding, though, that he was not sure when the first shipment would come out. “I don’t want to make any predictions now; let’s see how the grain export agreements will be implemented. The United Nations, Turkey and other international partners are responsible for the security aspect of this process.”
His visit to the Black Sea coast came on the heels of a Friday trip to the port of Odessa by ambassadors from the United States and Europe, who, together with Ukraine’s infrastructure minister, pressed Russia to abide by the agreement and said shipments could be possible. Go soon.
“Millions of people around the world are waiting for the grain to come out of this and other Ukrainian ports,” said Bridget Brink, the US ambassador to Ukraine, who was on her first visit to Odessa. “It is very important for Russia to fulfill its obligations and allow the export of these grains.”
As she spoke, one of the large cargo ships that was expected to carry grain – called the Navi-Star – sat moored in the port of Odessa near a group of large silver granaries, and its crew, dressed in orange, busy on deck. The Turkish-owned bulk carrier has been stuck in port since February 19, days before the invasion began, according to the Marine Traffic website, as one of a few ships unable to exit prior to the blockade.
The mechanisms for transporting grain across the Black Sea with little trust between the warring parties are very complex. A UN official said the process consisted of several moving parts and that the parties – Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations – were still working on putting in place important elements on Friday.
Ismini Bala, a UN official, said that a joint coordination center opened in Turkey on Wednesday is working to establish standard operating procedures, including monitoring, inspection and emergency response, adding that teams are also still working to identify safe routes and lanes for the roads. Incoming and outgoing ships.
“Once all of these are in place, we will start to see the first movements,” Ms. Bala said. “The ultimate goal is to ensure the safe passage of merchant ships.”
Ukraine is a major exporter of wheat, barley, corn and sunflower, but its shipments declined after the war began, undermining a global food distribution network already strained by poor harvests, drought, pandemic-related disruptions and climate change. Exports from Russia, which is also a major supplier, also declined.
The United Nations has Warning of possible famine and political turmoil, and Western officials accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of using hunger as leverage to ease sanctions.
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