Zelensky visits port as Ukraine prepares to ship grain

Odessa, Ukraine (AFP) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited a Black Sea port on Friday to watch his crews prepare to export grain trapped by Russia’s five-month-old war.A week after a deal was struck to allow essential food supplies to flow to the millions of poor people facing starvation all over the world.

“The first ship, the first ship to be loaded since the beginning of the war,” Zelensky, in his olive shirt, told reporters as he stood next to a Turkish-flagged ship in the port of Chernomorsk in the Odessa region. .

He said the departure of wheat and other grains would start with ships that were already loaded but were unable to leave Ukrainian ports after the invasion of Russia in late February.

Ukraine is a major global exporter of wheatBarley, corn and sunflower oilTheir loss led to a rise in global food pricesPolitical instability threatened And helped push more people into poverty and hunger In already weak countries.

Zelensky said the Ukrainian military is committed to the safety of ships, adding: “It is important for us that Ukraine remains the guarantor of global food security.”

His unannounced visit to the port is part of Ukraine’s effort to show the world that it is about to export millions of tons of grain. Under agreements reached last week that were brokered by Turkey and the United Nations and signed separately between Ukraine and Russia.

The two sides agreed to facilitate the shipment of wheat and other grains from three Ukrainian ports through safe passages on the Black Sea, as well as fertilizers and foodstuffs from Russia..

But a Russian missile strike on Odessa Hours after the agreement was signed, it raised doubts about Moscow’s commitment and raised concerns about the safety of cargo crews, who also have to navigate waters littered with explosive mines.

Russia’s Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Dmitry Polyansky told the UN Security Council in New York on Friday that Ukraine is deploying military goods and equipment in the port of Odessa, “and we will continue to destroy these goods and things, as we did on July 23.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov emphasized “the connection between the removal of grain from Ukrainian ports and the abolition of direct or indirect restrictions on the export of grain, fertilizer and other goods to world markets.”

Security concerns and the complexities of agreements I got off to a slow, cautious start. Time is running out – the deal is only good for 120 days.

The goal over the next four months is to export about 20 million tons of grain from three Ukrainian seaports blockaded since the February 24 invasion. That saves time for about four to five large bulk carriers per day to move grain from ports to millions of people in AfricaThe Middle East and Asia, who are already facing food shortages And in some cases starvation.

Grain output is also critical to Ukraine’s farmerswho are running out of storage capacity due to a new crop.

“We are ready,” Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kobrakov told reporters at the port of Odessa on Friday.

But he said Ukraine was waiting for the United Nations to confirm the safe lanes that the ships would use. Meanwhile, he said, a ship in the port of Chernomorsk was loaded with grain.

Lloyd’s List, publisher of global shipping news, noted that while UN officials are pressing for the initial flight this week to show progress, uncertainty over key details is likely to prevent an immediate surge in shipments.

“Until those logistical issues and detailed blueprints for safeguards are published, charters will not be agreed upon and consignments will not be underwritten by insurers,” wrote Bridget Deacon and Richard Mead of Lloyd’s List.

But they noted that UN agencies, such as the World Food Program, had already arranged to lease a large portion of the grain to meet urgent humanitarian needs.

Shipping companies are in no hurry because explosive mines are drifting in the water, ship owners are assessing risks and many are wondering how the agreement will be implemented.

The agreement states that Russia and Ukraine give “maximum guarantees” to ships going to the Ukrainian ports of Odessa, Chernomorsk and Yuzhny.

Smaller Ukrainian pilot boats will guide ships through approved lanes. The whole process will be overseen by a joint coordination center in Istanbul staffed by officials from Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations.

Once the ships reach port, they will be loaded with grain before leaving again for the Bosphorus, where they will be boarded to be inspected for weapons. There will likely be inspections of ships bound for Ukraine as well.


Associated Press Writer Aya Elbatrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Susan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey; and Edith M. Lederer of the United Nations in this report.