Oleksandr Gimanov/AFP via Getty Images
ODESA, Ukraine — A freighter loaded with 26,000 tonnes of Ukrainian corn left the country’s biggest port on Monday for the first time since the Russian invasion on February 24.
The step comes after the United Nations and Turkey signed agreements with Russia and Ukraine on July 22 to reopen Ukraine’s Black Sea ports and resume exports of grain, cooking oil and fertilizer . The UN had pushed for an agreement to deal with an increase global food shortage.
Ukraine’s Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov filmed the ship, the Sierra Leone-flagged Razoni, as it departed and said the UN deal ‘is a great success in ensuring global food security “. He wrote on Facebook that Ukrainian ports would be operating at full capacity in a few weeks.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also noted the ship’s departure, calling it “very positive.” Russia has signed a separate deal with Turkey so it can export its grain and fertilizers, which remain blocked due to Western sanctions on banking and transportation.
Ukrainians need this agreement to prevent their economy from collapsing.
“Ukraine derived 45% of its general income from the agricultural sector,” Alla Stoyanova, head of agriculture for the Odessa region, told NPR. “Since the Russian invasion, virtually every other sector has collapsed. So agricultural exports are now our money, our economy, our life.”
Maintaining the pace of exports is crucial. Farmers continued to work during the war, sometimes donning helmets and body armor while working in their fields. They lack space to store crops. They cannot afford to sow next year’s crop.
Viacheslav Nevmerzhytskyi, who grows wheat and sunflowers near the port of Pivdennyi, not far from Odessa, says he fears the Russians will even bomb ships carrying Ukrainian goods – then try to pin him on Ukraine .
“I don’t see this maritime corridor lasting until the new year unless there are great security guarantees,” he says, like NATO guarding the ports.
Russia has repeatedly bombed the port and region of Odessa since the signing of the grain export agreements. The Ukrainian army, on the other hand, uses specialists to remove underwater mines near the corridors of ships.
Security is already reinforced in Ukrainian ports, which are now managed by the army.
Dmytro Barinov, deputy director of Ukraine’s Seaports Authority, said at least 68 ships have been stuck in the country’s Black Sea ports since the Russian invasion. About half are loaded with grain.
“Some of them keep charging,” he says. “They’re waiting (for) these corridors to work, and they can come out, maybe in some sort of caravan on the sea.”
Hanna Palamarenko and Pavel Zilinskiy contributed reporting from Odessa.