Three grain ships left Ukrainian ports on Friday under a safe passage deal while the first inbound cargo vessel since Russia’s invasion was due in Ukraine later in the day to load, and Kyiv called the pact to be extended to other goods such as metals.
The July 22 deal was a rare diplomatic breakthrough as war rages on in eastern Ukraine, with Kyiv trying to rebuild its shattered economy after more than five months of conflict.
“We expect that the security guarantees of our partners from the U.N. and Turkey will continue to work, and food exports from our ports will become stable and predictable for all market participants,” Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said on Facebook (NASDAQ:META) after the ships set off.
The first grain ship left Odesa on Monday.
“This agreement is about logistics, about the movement ofvessels through the Black Sea,” Ukrainian Deputy Economy Minister Taras Kachka told Financial Times. “What’s the difference between grain and iron ore?”
The United Nations and Turkey brokered the safe passage deal between Moscow and Kyiv after the United Nations warned of outbreaks of famine due to grain shipments from Ukraine being halted.
Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24, sparking the biggest conflict in Europe since World War Two and fuelling a global energy and food crisis. Ukraine and Russia traditionally produce about one third of global wheat and Russia is Europe’s main energy supplier.
On Friday, two grain ships set off from Chornomorsk and one from Odesa, with a total of about 58,000 tonnes of corn.
The Turkish Defence Ministry said on Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) the Panama-flagged Navistar (NYSE:NAV), carrying 33,000 tonnes of corn bound for Ireland, left from Odesa. The Maltese-flagged Rojen, carrying 13,000 tonnes of corn, left Chornomorsk bound for Britain.
In addition, the Turkish-flagged ship Polarnet, carrying 12,000 tonnes of corn, departed Chornomorsk for the Turkish Black Sea port of Karasu.
The Turkish bulk carrier Osprey S, flying the flagof Liberia, was expected to arrive in Chornomorsk on Friday to load up with grain, the regional administration of Odesa said.
Some Western leaders have accused Russia of using a stand-off over gas supplies to heavily dependent Europe as a pretext to cut supplies as winter approaches in revenge for Western sanctions.
A dispute over the return of a turbine that Russia says is holding back gas supplies showed no sign of being resolved.
After five months of fighting, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy this week described the pressure his armed forces were under in the eastern Donbas region as “hell”.
Moscow is seeking to control the largely Russian-speaking Donbas, comprised of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces, where pro-Moscow separatists seized territory after the Kremlin annexed Crimea to the south in 2014.
Zelenskiy spoke of fierce fighting around the town of Avdiivka and the fortified village of Pisky, where Ukraine has acknowledged its Russian foe’s “partial success” in recent days.
The Ukrainian military said on Thursday Russian forces had mounted at least two assaults on Pisky but had been repelled.
Ukraine has spent the last eight years fortifying defensive positions in Pisky, seeing it as a buffer zone against Russian-backed forces holding Donetsk city about 10 km to the southeast.
Ukrainian General Oleksiy Hromov said his forces had retaken two villages around the eastern city of Sloviansk but had been pushed back to the town of Avdiivka after being forced to abandon a coal mine regarded as an important defensive position.
The Russian defence ministry confirmed its offensive.
Reuters could not immediately verify either side’s assertions.
The war has displaced millions, killed thousands of civilians and left cities, towns and villages in rubble. Ukraine and its Western allies have accused Russian forces of targeting civilians and war crimes, charges Russia rejects.
Putin said he launched what he calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine to ensure Russian security and protect Russian-speakers in Ukraine. Kyiv accuses Moscow of an imperial-style aggressive war to retake a neighbour that shook off Russian domination when the Soviet Union broke up in 1991.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday the war was the most dangerous moment for Europe since World War Two and Russia must not be allowed to win.