Two cargo vessels were bound for Ukrainian ports on Saturday, becoming the first ships to use a temporary corridor to sail into Black Sea ports and load grain for African and Asian markets, Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said.
Ukraine last month announced a "humanitarian corridor" in the Black Sea to release ships trapped in its ports since the start of the war in February 2022 and to circumvent a de facto blockade after Russia abandoned the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which allowed Kyiv to export grain.
Five vessels have so far left the port of Odesa, using the corridor that hugs the western Black Sea coast near Romania and Bulgaria.
Ukraine, a leading global food producer and exporter, also wants to use the corridor for its food exports.
The bulk carriers, Resilient Africa and Aroyat, were making their way through the Black Sea to Ukrainian ports to load almost 20,000 tons of wheat for Africa and Asia, Kubrakov said.
Data from ship tracking company MarineTraffic showed that the Aroyat was at Ukraine's Chornomorsk port, while the other vessel was en route in the Black Sea.
Ukraine's Agriculture Ministry said on the Telegram messaging app that the wheat would be shipped to Egypt and Israel.
"While the U.N. is not involved in the movement of those vessels, we welcome all efforts for the resumption of normal trade, especially of vital food commodities that help supply and stabilize global food markets," a U.N. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters.
"We continue our efforts to facilitate exports for agricultural products from both Ukraine and the Russian Federation," the official said.
The loadings are a test of Ukraine's ability to reopen shipping lanes at a time when Russia is trying to re-impose its de facto blockade, having abandoned the grain deal in July. Moscow has launched frequent drone and missile attacks on the Ukrainian grain export infrastructure.
The Black Sea grain deal was brokered by the U.N. and Turkey in July 2022 to combat a global food crisis worsened by Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Ukraine and Russia are among the world's top grain exporters.
Ukraine made several attacks in recent days using sea drones and missiles on Russia's Black Sea naval fleet in and around the Crimean Peninsula, which was annexed from Ukraine by Russia in 2014.