Zelenskyy visits port as Ukraine prepares to ship grain

ODESA, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited a Black Sea port on Friday to watch crews prepare to export grain trapped by Russia’s five-month-long wara week after an agreement was reached to allow millions of hungry poor people to receive essential food worldwide.

“The first ship, the first ship has been loaded since the beginning of the war,” Zelenskyy, in his signature drab olive t-shirt, told reporters as he stood next to a Turkish-flagged vessel at the port from Chernomorsk in the Odessa region. .

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

Ukraine is a major world exporter of wheatbarley, corn and sunflower oiland their loss has driven up global food pricesthreat of political instability and helped push more people into poverty and hunger in already vulnerable countries.

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

His unexpected visit to the port is part of Ukraine’s effort to show the world that it is almost ready to export millions of tonnes of grain as part of last week’s landmark agreements, which were brokered by Turkey and the United Nations and signed separately by Ukraine and Russia.

The parties agreed to facilitate the shipment of wheat and other grains from three Ukrainian ports through safe corridors on the Black Sea, as well as fertilizers and food from Russia..

But a Russian missile strike on Odessa hours after the deal was signed have questioned Moscow’s commitment and raised concerns about the safety of the ships’ crews, who also have to navigate waters strewn with explosive mines.

Russia’s deputy ambassador to the UN, Dmitry Polyansky, told the UN Security Council in New York on Friday that Ukraine had deployed military goods and equipment in the port of Odessa, “and we will continue to destroy these goods and objects, as we did on 23 July. ”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stressed the “connection between the withdrawal of grain from Ukrainian ports and the unblocking of direct or indirect restrictions on the export of our grain, fertilizers and other goods to world markets”.

Security issues and complexities of agreements got off to a slow and cautious start. Time is running out – the agreement is only valid for 120 days.

The goal over the next four months is to export some 20 million tonnes of grain from three Ukrainian seaports blocked since the February 24 invasion. This gives time for about four to five large bulk carriers a day to transport grain from ports to millions of people in Africa.the Middle East and Asia, already facing food shortages and, in some cases, starvation.

Grain delivery is also essential for Ukrainian farmerswhich lack storage capacity due to a new harvest.

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

But he said Ukraine is waiting for the UN to confirm the safe corridors the ships will use. Meanwhile, a ship from the port of Chernomorsk was loaded with grain, he said.

Lloyd’s List, a global publisher of shipping information, noted that while UN officials are pushing for the initial voyage this week to show progress, uncertainty over key details is likely to prevent an immediate increase in shipments. .

“Until these logistical issues and detailed outlines of backup procedures are released, charters will not be agreed and underwriters will not underwrite shipments,” wrote Bridget Diakun and Richard Meade of Lloyd’s List.

They note, however, that United Nations agencies, such as the World Food Programme, have already made arrangements to charter much of the grain for urgent humanitarian needs.

Shipping companies have not rushed as explosive mines drift in the waters, shipowners are assessing the risks and many are wondering how the deal will work.

The agreement stipulates that Russia and Ukraine provide “maximum assurances” to ships that brave the voyage to the Ukrainian ports of Odessa, Chernomorsk and Yuzhny.

Smaller Ukrainian pilot boats will guide vessels through approved lanes. The whole operation will be overseen by a joint coordination center in Istanbul made up of Ukrainian, Russian, Turkish and United Nations officials.

Once the ships reach the port, they will be loaded with grain before heading back to the Bosphorus Strait, where they will be embarked to inspect them for weapons. There will probably also be inspections for vessels embarking for Ukraine.

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Associated Press writers Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey; and Edith M. Lederer of the United Nations contributed to this report.

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