The first grain shipment from Ukraine since Russia’s invasion is ready and waiting for the signal to leave port, Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy disclosed on Friday, July 29, 2022.
He was speaking on a visit to the port of Chornomorsk, after the United Nations (UN) Aid Chief, Martin Griffiths, said the ship could leave on Friday, July 29, 2022. A UN-led deal was signed a week ago to resume exports after a blockade that led to food price rises.
But Martin Griffiths, a British diplomat currently serving as Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator at the United Nations said “crucial details” still had to be ironed out. A source told Russian media that it could happen, barring unforeseen circumstances. With hopes of an imminent departure, President Zelenskyy joined Ambassadors from the G7 industrialised nations on the Black Sea coast, standing in front of the Turkish-registered ship, Polarnet.
While the ship is being loaded with grain, officials said another 17 ships are already laden with 600,000 tonnes of cargo. The UN Aid Chief made it clear that exports could only resume safely when the route through the Black Sea was finalised. Under the agreement signed by Russia and Ukraine, the sea corridor, convoy and inspection of the cargo are all being organised by a Joint Co-ordination Centre (JCC) in Turkey and final preparations were reportedly still not in place.
Control of the Black Sea
Russian naval forces control most of the Black Sea, leaving some 20 million tonnes of grain stored in Ukraine, awaiting export. An added risk to the operation is that the biggest port of Odesa has been mined by Ukraine’s military.
The suspension of grain exports, now into a sixth month, has led to food shortages across Africa. The destination of the first ship is not yet clear, but the UN Aid Chief said Somalia is a priority. Eight areas of the country are at risk of famine.
President Zelenskyy said it is important for Ukraine to guarantee global food security “While someone, blocking the Black Sea, takes the lives of other countries, we are giving them opportunity to survive”. Although Russia fired missiles at Odesa port at the weekend, there is optimism that the deal, set for an initial 120 days, may work. Before Russia’s invasion, the two countries accounted for a third of the world’s exports of wheat and barley. Russia is also keen to resume its own exports of grain and fertiliser.
The regional head in Odesa, Serhiy Bratchuk, posted a map showing how the grain corridor to and from Odesa might work, with an area for inspection near the port and a route following the Ukrainian coast to the mouth of River Danube. Ukrainian officials said the Black Sea ports of Chornomorsk and Odesa are ready for ships to leave, while a third, Pivdennyi, would be prepared by the end of the week.
Hopes to Resume Fulltime Export
Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said all the details of the first shipment had to be calculated and everything “checked once more, twice, three times”.
Martin Griffiths also told reporters on Thursday, July 28, 2022, that “There are, as you know, ships with grain in those Odesa ports ready to leave, and we have been hoping to see that happen even today or tomorrow”, adding that “But we can only see that happen safely when those procedures are clear and the parties in the JCC have agreed to those movements and where exactly is the corridor.”
Mr. Griffiths further disclosed that he thinks any problems would be settled very quickly, with the aim of returning to pre-war export levels of some five million metric tonnes a month.