First ship carrying Ukrainian grain leaves the port of Odesa

The bulk carrier Razoni starts its way from the port in Odesa, Ukraine, Monday, Aug. 1, 2022. [AP]

The first ship carrying Ukrainian grain set off from the port of Odesa on Monday under a deal brokered by the United Nations and Turkey that is expected to release large stores of Ukrainian crops to foreign markets and ease a growing hunger crisis.

The Sierra Leone-flagged cargo ship Razoni left Odesa for Lebanon, Turkey’s defense ministry said. A statement from the United Nations said the Razoni was carrying over 26,000 tons of corn.

Data from the Razoni’s Automatic Identification System, a safety tracker for ships at sea, showed the vessel slowly coming out from its berth at Odesa port Monday morning alongside a tug boat.

Ukraine’s Minister of Infrastructure Oleksandr Kubrakov tweeted a video of the long cargo ship sounding its horn as its headed out to sea.

“The first grain ship since Russian aggression has left port,” Kubrakov said on Twitter. “Thanks to the support of all our partner countries and the U.N. we were able to full implement the Agreement signed in Istanbul. It’s important for us to be one of the guarantors of food security.”

The ship is expected to reach Istanbul on Tuesday, where it will be inspected, before being allowed to proceed, the ministry said.

The corn will then head to Lebanon, a tiny Mideast nation in the grips of what the World Bank has described as one of the world’s worst financial crises in more than 150 years. A 2020 explosion at its main port in Beirut shattered its capital city and destroyed grain silos there, a part of which collapsed following a weekslong fire just Sunday.

As the Razoni moved toward the open water of the Black Sea, it changed its destination from Istanbul to Tripoli, Lebanon.

The Turkish ministry statement said other ships would also depart Ukraine’s ports through the safe corridors in line with deals signed in Istanbul on July 22, but did not provide further details.

Russia and Ukraine signed separate agreements with Turkey and the U.N. clearing the way for Ukraine — one of the world’s key breadbaskets — to export 22 million tons of grain and other agricultural goods that have been stuck in Black Sea ports because of Russia’s invasion.

The deals also allow Russia to exports grain and fertilizers.

Ukraine’s infrastructure ministry said that 16 more ships, all blocked since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion on Feb. 24, were waiting their turn in the ports of Odesa.

Kubrakov said the shipments would also help Ukraine’s war-shattered economy.

“Unlocking ports will provide at least $1 billion in foreign exchange revenue to the economy and an opportunity for the agricultural sector to plan for next year,” Kubrakov said.

The United Nations welcomed the development, saying in a statement that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres hopes it will be just the first of many commercial ships carry Ukrainian grain abroad and “bring much-needed stability and relief to global food security especially in the most fragile humanitarian contexts.”

The resumption of the grain shipments came as fighting raged elsewhere in Ukraine.

Ukraine’s presidential office said that at least three civilians were killed and another 16 wounded by Russian shelling in the Donetsk region over the past 24 hours.

Donetsk Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko repeated a strong call for all residents to evacuate. He particularly emphasized the need to evacuate about 52,000 children still left in the region.

In Kharkiv, two people were wounded by a Russian strike in the morning. One was wounded while waiting for a bus at a stop, and another was hurt when a Russian shell exploded near an apartment building.

The southern city of Mykolaiv also faced repeated shelling, which triggered fires near a medical facility, destroying a shipment of humanitarian aid containing medicines and food.

Analysts warned that the continuing fighting could threaten the grain deal, making clients nervous.

“The danger remains: The Odesa region has faced constant shelling and only regular supplies could prove the viability of the agreements signed,” said Volodymyr Sidenko, an expert with the Kyiv-based Razumkov Center think-tank.

“The departure of the first vessel doesn’t solve the food crisis, it’s just the first step that could also be the last if Russia decides to continue attacks in the south.”

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