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Kyiv — A ship carrying grain left the Ukrainian port of Odesa for Lebanon on Monday under a safe passage agreement, Ukrainian and Turkish officials said, the first departure since the Russian invasion blocked shipping through the Black Sea five months ago.
Ukraine’s foreign minister called it “a day of relief for the world”, especially for countries threatened by food shortages and hunger because of the disrupted shipments.
The sailing was made possible after Turkey and the UN brokered a grain-and-fertiliser export agreement between Russia and Ukraine last month.
“The first grain ship since #RussianAggression has left port,” infrastructure minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said. “Today Ukraine, together with its partners, makes another step to prevent world hunger.”
The Turkish defence minister said earlier that the Sierra Leone-flagged ship Razoni would head to Lebanon.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24 has led to a worldwide food and energy crisis and the UN has warned of the risk of multiple famines this year.
Russia and Ukraine account for nearly a third of global wheat exports. But Western sanctions on Russia and fighting along Ukraine’s eastern seaboard have prevented grain ships safely leaving ports.
The deal aims to allow safe passage for grain shipments in and out of Odesa, Chornomorsk and the port of Pivdennyi.
Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter: “The day of relief for the world, especially for our friends in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, as the first Ukrainian grain leaves Odesa after months of Russian blockade”.
Moscow has denied responsibility for the food crisis, blaming Western sanctions for slowing exports and Ukraine for mining the approaches to its ports.
Turkish defence minister Hulusi Akar said the Razoni would anchor in the Bosphorus off Istanbul on Tuesday afternoon and will be inspected by a joint team of Russian, Ukrainian, UN and Turkish representatives.
“It will then continue as long as no problems arise,” Akar said.
Ukrainian presidential officials have said 17 ships are docked in Black Sea ports with almost 600,000 tonnes of cargo, mostly grain.
Kubrakov said more ships would follow. Unlocking the ports would provide at least $1bn (R16.5bn) in foreign exchange revenue for Ukraine’s economy and allow the agricultural sector to plan next year’s sowing season, he said.
The US Embassy in Kyiv welcomed the shipping resumption, saying: “The world will be watching for continued implementation of this agreement to feed people around the world with millions of tonnes of trapped Ukrainian grain.”
Bombardments in south and east
Despite the breakthrough on the grain shipments, the war ground on elsewhere.
Three civilians were killed by Russian shelling in Donetsk region — two in Bakhmut and one in nearby Soledar — in the last 24 hours, regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said.
An important industrial city and transport hub, Bakhmut has been under Russian bombardment for the past week as the Kremlin's forces try to occupy all of Donetsk.
It is connected to the towns of Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk in Luhansk region, which is almost all occupied by Russia. Luhansk governor Serhiy Gaidai said the road was crucial for delivering weapons to Ukrainians fighting in Sievierodonetsk and evacuating people from that area.
Russian strikes also hit Kharkiv — Ukraine’s second biggest city and situated near the border with Russia — on Monday, regional governor Oleh Synegubov said. Two civilians were wounded, he said.
After failing to quickly capture the capital Kyiv early in the war, Russia has turned its forces on Ukraine’s east and south and has been aiming to capture the Donbas region, made up of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia has been transferring some forces from the Donbas to the southern Kherson and Zaporizhizhya regions.
Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and Kyiv says Moscow is seeking to do the same with the Donbas and link it to Crimea in the south. Russian-backed separatist controlled parts of the region before the invasion.
Russia invaded Ukraine in what it called a “special operation” to demilitarise its neighbour. Ukraine and Western nations have dismissed this as a baseless pretext for war.
Russian missiles on Sunday pounded Mykolaiv, a port city on the River Bug estuary off the Black Sea that borders the mostly Russian-occupied Kherson region.
Mykolaiv mayor Oleksandr Senkevych said more than 12 missile strikes — probably the most powerful on the city in five months of war — hit homes and schools, with two people confirmed killed and three wounded.
Ukrainian grain tycoon Oleksiy Vadatursky, founder and owner of agriculture company Nibulon, and his wife were killed in their home, Mykolaiv Governor Vitaliy Kim said.
Zelensky said the businessman — one of Ukraine’s richest — had been building a modern grain market with a network of transshipment terminals and elevators.
“It is these people, these companies, precisely the south of Ukraine, which has guaranteed the world’s food security,” Zelensky said in his nightly address. “This was always so. And it will be so once again.”
Zelensky said Ukraine may harvest only half its usual amount this year due to disruption to farming from the war. Farmers have reported trying to harvest in between Russian shelling of their fields and nearby towns and villages.
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