First grain shipment since Russian invasion leaves Ukraine

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Kyiv (Ukraine) (AFP) – The first shipment of Ukrainian grain since the Russian invasion in February left the port of Odessa on Monday morning as part of a historic deal to lift Moscow’s naval blockade in the Black Sea.

United Nations chief Antonio Guterres, who negotiated the plan with Turkey, welcomed the announcement while Kyiv said it would bring “relief to the world” if Moscow keeps its end of the deal.

The five-month halt in deliveries from war-torn Ukraine – one of the world’s largest grain exporters – has contributed to soaring food prices, hitting poorer countries particularly hard of the world.

Officials said the Sierra Leone-registered freighter Razoni was passing through a specially cleared corridor in the mine-infested waters of the Black Sea with 26,000 tonnes of maize on board.

“He is expected in Istanbul on August 2. He will then continue his journey after being inspected in Istanbul,” the Turkish foreign minister said in a statement.

Other convoys would follow, respecting the maritime corridor and the agreed formalities, the statement said.

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Last month, Ukraine and Russia signed the groundbreaking pact – the first significant agreement involving the warring parties since the invasion – with Turkey and the United Nations aimed at getting millions of tonnes of trapped Ukrainian grain to markets global.

But Russian strikes on the port of Odessa the day after the deal was signed have sparked outrage among Ukraine’s allies and cast doubt on the deal.

António Guterres, according to a UN statement, “hopes that this will be the first of many commercial vessels to move in accordance with the signed initiative, and that it will bring much-needed stability and relief to global food security, particularly in the most fragile humanitarian areas”. contexts”.

Ships “waiting to go”

“Ensuring that existing grains and foodstuffs can be brought to world markets is a humanitarian imperative,” he added.

Guterres also said the World Food Program was planning to “purchase, load and ship an initial 30,000 metric tons of wheat out of Ukraine on a UN chartered vessel,” and there would be more details in the next days.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Monday marked a “day of relief for the world, especially for our friends in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, as the first grain of Ukraine leaves Odessa after months of Russian blockade”.

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The Kremlin hailed it on Monday as a “very positive” development and a “good opportunity to test the effectiveness of the mechanisms agreed upon during the talks in Istanbul”.

The long-awaited shipment is only the start of a backlog, however, and Ukraine’s Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said 16 other ships were already waiting their turn to leave Odessa.

“These are the ships that have been blocked since the start of the full-scale invasion of Russia,” he said, adding that new requests to dock and load ships were continuously coming in.

“We expect to reach full efficiency in agricultural shipments over the next few weeks,” he added.

The Razoni’s departure comes a day after Ukrainian agriculture tycoon Oleksiy Vadatursky, 74, and his wife Raisa were killed when a missile struck their home in the devastated southern city of Mykolaiv. fights.

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Vadatursky owned the main grain exporter Nibulon and had previously been decorated with the prestigious “Hero of Ukraine” award.

Mykolaiv – which has been frequently attacked – is the closest Ukrainian city to the southern front where Kyiv forces are seeking to launch a major counter-offensive to retake territory lost after the Russian invasion in February.

The governor said on Monday that three people were injured in “massive” overnight Russian shelling that damaged homes and damaged humanitarian supplies.

Despite progress in grain exports, Russian bombardment also took place in the war-scarred east of the country, where Russian troops pushed deeper into the Donbass region.

The Razoni’s departure came after Russian authorities on the Black Sea’s Crimean peninsula – seized by Moscow from Ukraine in 2014 – said a small explosive device from a commercial drone, likely launched nearby, had touched the naval command in Sevastopol.

The local mayor blamed “Ukrainian nationalists” for the attack which forced the cancellation of festivities marking Russia’s annual holiday celebrating the navy.

The Ukrainian Navy has accused Russia of staging the attacks as a pretext to cancel the festivities.

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