The first ship carrying grain under a United Nations-brokered export deal left the Ukrainian port of Odessa on Monday, raising hopes that the global food supply crisis caused by the Russian invasion could be eased.
The M/V Razoni became the first merchant ship to leave the important Black Sea port since February 26, two days after Russia launched its attack on Ukraine.
The United Nations said it was heading to the port of Tripoli, Lebanon, and was carrying around 26,500 metric tons (more than 29,000 US tons) of maize.
The trip follows a breakthrough agreement brokered by the United Nations and Turkey and signed by representatives from Russia and Ukraine in July, facilitating the resumption of vital grain exports. About 20 million metric tons of wheat and maize have been stranded in the Odessa port, Samantha Power, Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said last week.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba described Monday as “a day of relief for the world, especially for our friends in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.”
Under the terms of the deal, the ship will dock off the coast of Istanbul at around 3 p.m. local time (8 a.m. ET) on Tuesday, where it will be checked before proceeding to its final destination.
From the early days of the war, Russia closed the ports of southern Ukraine, preventing Ukrainian grain from traveling to many of the countries dependent on it.
The July 23 deal promised to unlock the ports on the Black Sea to allow the safe passage of grain and oilseeds, following routes set out by Ukrainian naval pilots to avoid mines, with a stopover in Istanbul to ensure weapons are not smuggled back into the country. country.
It followed months of diplomacy and raised hopes around the world – but the stability of the deal was tested within hours when Russian air strikes hit Odessa.
Senior Western diplomats responded with cautious optimism after Monday’s departure, welcoming the resumption of grain exports but urging Russia to stick to the deal.
“This is an important but a first step,” British Ambassador to Kyiv Melinda Simmons wrote on Twitter on Monday. “[Russia] He now needed to respect their side of this bargain and allow the grain ships to pass safely. They should stop burning and grabbing [Ukrainian] wheat.”
“The world will watch the continued implementation of this agreement to feed people around the world with millions of tons of blockaded Ukrainian grain,” the US embassy in Kyiv added.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday that the departing shipment was “very positive”.
“It is a good opportunity to test the effectiveness of the mechanisms that were agreed upon during the Istanbul talks,” he said.
The Joint Coordination Center (JCC) in Istanbul said no additional grain shipments were expected to leave Ukraine’s Black Sea ports on Monday. The JCC will oversee the export of Ukrainian grain. According to the center, the dates and dates of the additional shipments are still being decided, and it is likely that they will only be completed once the first shipment passes through inspection in Istanbul on Tuesday.
Ukraine and Russia are the main suppliers of food to the world. In normal times, Ukraine would export about three-quarters of the grain it produces. According to data from the European Commission, about 90% of these exports were shipped by sea, from the ports of the Black Sea.
The United Nations hopes that under the agreement, the ports will leave each month to export 5 million tons of grain per month, a number comparable to pre-war levels.
But despite the optimism surrounding the agreement, the Russian invasion still hit hard for Ukraine’s harvest.
Last month, the Ukrainian Grain Traders Union said it expected a grain and oilseed harvest of 69.4 million tons, slightly higher than previous forecasts but well below the 106 million tons harvested last year.