Grain shipments from Ukraine’s port of Odesa resumed Monday, the first since Russia invaded its neighbor in late February.
The Sierra Leone-flagged cargo ship Razoni was the first to leave port, carrying more than 26,000 tons of corn bound for Lebanon. In a statement, Turkey’s defense ministry said other unspecified ships would also depart Ukraine on Monday.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the Razoni was “loaded with two commodities in short supply: corn, and hope. Hope for millions of people around the world who depend on the smooth running of Ukraine’s ports to feed their families.”
He added, “What we’ve witnessed today in Odesa is an important starting point. It must be the first of many commercial ships bringing relief and stability to global food markets.”
Guterres said that “ensuring that grain, fertilizers, and other food-related items are available at reasonable prices to developing countries is a humanitarian imperative. People on the verge of famine need these agreements to work, in order to survive.”
As part of the renewed shipments, Guterres said the U.N.’s World Food Program plans to soon buy 30,000 metric tons of Ukrainian wheat and ship it out of the country on a U.N.-chartered vessel.
Turkey and the U.N. brokered an agreement with Russia and Ukraine in late July to get grain exports going again amid a global food crisis that the United Nations says has been worsened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The deal calls for safe passage of cargo ships traveling from ports in southern Ukraine through waters in the Black Sea that Russia has controlled since its invasion of Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his daily video address on Monday evening that the shipment is “the first positive signal that there is a chance to stop the development of a world food crisis.”
However, he cautioned that Russia must be monitored to ensure its compliance with the deal.
“We cannot be under the illusion that Russia will simply refrain from trying to disrupt Ukrainian exports,” he said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Monday the departure of the first ship is “very positive” and would help test the “mechanisms that were agreed to during the talks in Istanbul.”
Under the agreement, ships going in and out of Ukrainian ports will be inspected to make sure they not carrying weapons or other non-food items.
Also Monday, Ukraine's Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said Kyiv had received more precision rocket systems from the United States. Ukraine has credited the U.S.-made HIMARS rocket systems with helping to slow Russia’s advance in the country’s east.
British say Russians make 'slow progress'
Britain's defense ministry assessed Monday that Russian forces had made only slow progress during the previous four days as they mounted tactical assaults in the area northeast of Donetsk.
The British ministry said Russia is also likely shifting "a significant number of its forces" from the northern part of the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine to southern Ukraine.
For several months, Russia has focused its efforts on the Donbas, which includes Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, after facing resistance on its approach to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. A reallocation of resources to the east helped Russia claim control of Luhansk in early July.
Russia’s Black Sea fleet headquarters struck
In southern Ukraine, a small explosive device carried by a makeshift drone hit the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea fleet on the Crimean Peninsula on Sunday, wounding six people, local authorities said, while Ukraine said a Russian missile attack killed one of its richest people, a grain merchant.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the drone attack in the port city of Sevastopol, which forced cancellation of ceremonies for Russia’s Navy Day holiday. But the seemingly improvised, small-scale nature of the attack raised the possibility it was the work of Ukrainian insurgents in the territory seized by Russia in 2014.
The drone appeared to be homemade and the explosive device low-powered, the Black Sea Fleet’s press service said. Sevastopol is about 170 kilometers from the Ukrainian mainland, but it is unclear where the drone began its flight.
'Not an accident'
Elsewhere in Ukraine, the mayor of the major port city of Mykolaiv, Vitaliy Kim, said a Russian attack killed one of Ukraine's wealthiest men, Oleksiy Vadatursky, and his wife, Raisa. Vadatursky headed a grain production and export business.
An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Mykhailo Podolyak, said Vadatursky was specifically targeted.
It "was not an accident, but a well-thought-out and organized premeditated murder,” Podolyak said. “Vadatursky was one of the largest farmers in the country, a key person in the region and a major employer. That the exact hit of a rocket was not just in a house, but in a specific wing, the bedroom, leaves no doubt about aiming and adjusting the strike."
Vadatursky's agribusiness, Nibulon, includes a fleet of ships for sending grain abroad.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.