ODESA, Ukraine — The first shipments of grain since the start of the war in Ukraine have been loaded onto freighters at Ukrainian Black Sea ports, preparing for their first voyages in more than five months.
President Volodymyr Zelensky and representatives of the Group of 7 industrialized nations visited Chernomorsk, one of the three ports, on Friday and said they were ready to get grain to countries hit hard by shortages. food.
The visit came less than a week after Russian cruise missiles hit the nearby port of Odessa, threatening to overturn a UN-brokered deal with Turkey to allow Ukraine to start exporting cereals. Ukrainian ports have been sealed off by a Russian Black Sea naval blockade since troops invaded the country on February 24.
In his Friday night address, Mr. Zelensky reiterated that Ukraine was ready.
“Concrete work on restoring Ukrainian grain exports began today in Odessa,” he said, adding, however, that he was not sure when the first shipment would be released. “I don’t want to make predictions now; let’s see how the grain export agreements will be implemented. The UN, Turkey and other international partners are responsible for the security aspect of this process.
His visit to the Black Sea coast followed a Friday trip to the port of Odessa by ambassadors from the United States and Europe, who, together with Ukraine’s infrastructure minister, urged Russia to respect the agreement and said it was possible that expeditions could get under way soon.
“Millions of people around the world are waiting for grain to come out of this port and other Ukrainian ports,” said Bridget A. Brink, the US ambassador to Ukraine, who was making her first visit to Odessa. “It is very important that Russia respects its commitments and allows the export of this grain.
As she spoke, one of the large freighters supposed to deliver grain – called the Navi-Star – was moored at the port of Odessa near a group of large silver grain silos, its crew, in orange overalls, busy on the bridge. The Turkish-owned bulk carrier has been stuck in the port since February 19, days before the start of the invasion, according to shipping website MarineTraffic, as one of the few ships that failed to get out before the blockade.
The mechanics of transporting grain across the Black Sea with little trust between warring parties are extremely complex. The operation has several moving parties, and the parties – Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations – were still working on important elements on Friday, a UN official said.
A joint coordination center that opened in Turkey on Wednesday is working to establish standard operating procedures, including monitoring and inspection and emergency response, said Ismini Palla, a UN official, adding that teams were also always working on safe routes and corridors for incoming and outgoing vessels.
“Once all of these pieces are in place, we will start to see the first movements,” Ms Palla said. “The ultimate goal is to ensure the safe passage of commercial vessels.”
Ukraine is a leading exporter of wheat, barley, maize and sunflower, but its shipments plummeted after the war began, undermining a global food distribution network already strained by bad weather. harvests, drought, pandemic-related disruptions and climate change. Exports from Russia, also a major supplier, also fell.
The UN has warned of potential starvation and political unrest, and Western officials have accused Russian President Vladimir V. Putin of using hunger as leverage to ease sanctions.