Zelensky visits ships loaded with Ukrainian grain for export

Source: Associated Press

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited one of Ukraine’s main Black Sea ports Friday (local time), a week after a deal was struck with Russia, Turkey and the United Nations to create safe corridors for ships to export grains that have been trapped in the country since the war began five months ago.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visits a port in Chornomork.

His visit to a port in the Odesa region comes as workers were seen preparing terminals for grain exports, which are relied on by millions of impoverished people worldwide facing hunger.

“The first vessel, the first ship is being loaded since the beginning of the war,” Zelensky said.

READ MORE: Russia airstrikes target Ukraine villages along Black Sea

He said the export of grain will begin with the departure of several ships that were loaded but could not depart the Ukrainian ports after the Russian invasion.

“Our side is fully prepared. We sent all the signals to our partners — the UN and Turkey, and our military guarantees the security situation,” he said.

“It is important for us that Ukraine remains the guarantor of global food security."

Navi-Star sits full of grain since Russia's invasion.

The visits to the ports are part of a broader push by Ukraine to show the world they are nearly ready to export millions of tons of grains to the world again after last week’s breakthrough agreement.

The complexities of the agreement and concerns about the safety of shipping crews have set the deal off to a slow, cautious start. It's been a week since it was signed, and no grains have yet left ports. But the sides are facing a ticking clock — the deal is only good for 120 days.

It comes a week after Russian missiles struck Odesa, throwing into question Moscow’s commitment to the deal signed only hours earlier. The sides agreed to facilitate the shipment of Ukrainian wheat and other grains from Black Sea routes blocked by five months of war, as well as fertiliser and food from Russia.

The goal over the next four months is to get some 20 million tons of grain out of three Ukrainian sea ports blocked since the February 24 invasion. That provides time for about four to five large bulk carriers per day to transport grain from the ports to millions of impoverished people worldwide facing hunger.

A person walks past a grain storage terminal at the Odesa Sea Port.

“We are ready,” Ukraine’s minister of infrastructure, Oleksandr Kubrakov, told reporters at the port of Odesa on Friday.

But he said Ukraine is waiting on the UN to confirm the safe corridors that will be used by ships navigating the waters, which have been mined with explosives. In the meantime, a ship at the port of Chernomorsk was being loaded with grains, he said.

The deal stipulates that Russia and Ukraine will provide “maximum assurances” for ships that brave the journey through the Black Sea to the Ukrainian ports of Odesa, Chernomorsk and Yuzhny.

For ships heading to Ukraine’s three ports, smaller Ukrainian pilot boats will guide the vessels through approved corridors. The entire operation will be overseen by a Joint Coordination Center in Istanbul staffed by officials from Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations.

Once ships reach port, they will be loaded with tens of thousands of tons of grains before departing back to the Bosphorus Strait, where they will be boarded to inspect for weapons. There will likely be inspections for ships embarking to Ukraine as well.