The first ship carrying Ukrainian grain set out from the port of Odesa on Monday under a deal sealed by the United Nations and Turkey expected to release large stores of Ukrainian crops to foreign markets and ease a growing food crisis.
The Sierra Leone-flagged cargo ship Razoni left Odesa carrying over 26,000 tons of corn destined for Lebanon.
"The first grain ship since Russian aggression has left port," said Ukraine's Minister of Infrastructure Oleksandr Kubrakov on Twitter, posting a video of the long vessel sounding its horn as its slowly headed out to sea.
Posting separately on Facebook, Kubrakov said Ukraine is the fourth-largest corn exporter in the world, "so the possibility of exporting it via ports is a colossal success in ensuring global food security."
"Today Ukraine, together with partners, takes another step to prevent world hunger," he added.
In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov hailed the ship's departure as "very positive," saying it would help test the "efficiency of the mechanisms that were agreed during the talks in Istanbul."
Turkey's defence minister, Hulusi Akar, said the Razoni was expected to dock Tuesday afternoon in Istanbul at the entrance of the Bosporus, where joint teams of Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish and U.N. officials would board it for inspections.
In an interview with Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency, Akar warned that the global food crisis threatened to trigger "a serious wave of migration from Africa to Europe and to Turkey."
The corn is destined for Lebanon, a Middle East 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.
Lebanon mainly imports wheat from Ukraine but also buys its corn to make cooking oil and to produce animal feed.
The Turkish defence ministry 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 export grain and fertilizers.
Turkey's defence minister praised a joint coordination centre staffed by Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish and U.N. officials as a venue where opposing sides can engage.
"The problems they have are obvious, there is a war. But it is the only place where the two sides are able to come together," Akar said. "Despite the ups and downs, there is a good environment for dialogue."
Ukraine's infrastructure ministry said that 16 more ships, all blocked since the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, were waiting their turn in the ports of Odesa.
Kubrakov said the shipments would also help Ukraine's war-shattered economy.
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