First Ukraine grain ship since start of war leaves Odesa

AFP

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 United Nations 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 United Nations 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, United Nations 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 $1 billion 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 tons of trapped Ukrainian grain."

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