ODESSA, Ukraine — The first shipments of grain since the start of the war in Ukraine have been loaded onto cargo ships at Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea, 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 three ports on Friday, to say they are ready to send grain to countries hit hard by food shortages.
The visit came less than a week after Russian cruise missiles struck the nearby port of Odessa, threatening to upend a deal brokered by the United Nations and Turkey to allow Ukraine to export grain. Ukrainian ports have been sealed off by a Russian naval blockade in the Black Sea since troops invaded the country on February 24.
In his late night speech on Friday, Mr. Zelensky reiterated that Ukraine is ready.
“Concrete work to restore Ukrainian grain exports began today in Odessa,” he said, though he did not know when the first shipments would leave. “I don’t want to make any predictions now; Let’s see how the grain export contracts will be implemented. The UN, Turkey and other international partners are responsible for the security side of this process.
His visit to the Black Sea coast followed a visit to the port of Odessa by ambassadors from the US and Europe on Friday, along with Ukraine’s infrastructure minister, who pressed Russia to abide by the deal and said exports could continue. Starting soon.
“Millions of people around the world are waiting for grain to come out of this and other Ukrainian ports,” said Bridget A. Brink said, making his first visit to Odessa. “It is very important that Russia fulfills its obligations and allows the export of this grain.”
As she spoke, one of the large cargo ships expected to deliver the grain – the Navi-Star – sat in Odessa harbor with huge silver bins of grain, its crew, in orange overcoats, sitting busily on deck. The Turkish-owned bulk carrier has been stuck in the port since February 19, just days before the invasion began, according to maritime website MarineTraffic, one of the few vessels unable to leave before the blockade.
The dynamics of transporting grain across the Black Sea were highly complex with little trust between the warring parties. The move has many moving parts, and the parties – Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations – were still working out key elements on Friday, a UN official said.
A joint coordination center opened in Turkey on Wednesday is working to establish standard operating procedures, including monitoring and inspection and emergency response, UN official Ismini Balla said, adding that teams are developing more secure routes and corridors. Inbound and outbound ships.
“Once all those elements are in place, we will start to see the first movements,” Ms Balla said. “The ultimate goal is to ensure the safe passage of merchant ships.”
Ukraine is a leading exporter of wheat, barley, corn and sunflowers, but its exports have plummeted since the start of the war, undermining a global food supply network already battered by poor harvests, drought, pandemic-related disruptions and climate change. Exports from Russia, a key supplier, also fell.
The United Nations has Warned of possible famine and political unrest, and Western officials have accused Russian President Vladimir V. Putin has been accused of using hunger for sanctions relief.