First Ukraine grain ship to set sail, more to follow, says Turkey

Russian missiles pound port of Mykolaiv • Ukraine grain tycoon Oleksiy Vadatursky killed in Mykolaiv • Putin's maritime ambitions include Black Sea, Arctic

 A Ukrainian soldier walks away as seeds burn in a grain silo after it was shelled by Russian forces in the Donetsk region on May 31. (photo credit: Serhii Nuzhnenko/Reuters)
A Ukrainian soldier walks away as seeds burn in a grain silo after it was shelled by Russian forces in the Donetsk region on May 31.
(photo credit: Serhii Nuzhnenko/Reuters)

A ship carrying grain left the Ukrainian port of Odesa for foreign markets on Monday under a safe passage agreement, a Ukrainian minister said, the first departure since the Russian invasion blocked shipping through the Black Sea five months ago.

The sailing was made possible after Turkey and the United Nations brokered a grain-and-fertilizer export agreement between Russia and Ukraine last month.

"The first grain ship since #RussianAggression has left port. Thanks to the support of all our partner countries & @UN we were able to full implement the Agreement signed in Istanbul," Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said on Twitter.

The Sierra Leone-flagged ship Razoni will set off from Odesa port for Lebanon with its cargo of corn, the ministry said.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 has sparked a worldwide food and energy crisis that is shaking the global economy. The United Nations has warned of a global hunger crisis with a "real risk" of multiple famines this year.

Russia and Ukraine account for nearly a third of global wheat exports. But Western sanctions on Russia and fighting along Ukraine's eastern seaboard have prevented grain ships safely leaving ports.

The Razoni's departure was made possible after Moscow, Kyiv, Ankara and the United Nations signed a grain-and-fertilizer export agreement in July. The deal aims to allow safe passage for grain shipments in and out of Chornomorsk, Odesa and the port of Pivdennyi.

 A view shows the ship ''Laodicea'' docked at port of Tripoli in northern Lebanon (credit: REUTERS) A view shows the ship ''Laodicea'' docked at port of Tripoli in northern Lebanon (credit: REUTERS)

"It was agreed for the Sierra Leone-flagged cargo ship named Razoni, which is loaded with corn, to depart from the Odesa port at 8:30 in the morning on Aug. 1 to go to Lebanon," Turkey's defense ministry said in a note.

"Deployment of other ships are planned within the scope of the determined corridor and method" as part of the July agreement, it said.

Ukrainian officials have said there were 17 ships docked in Ukraine's Black Sea ports with almost 600,000 tonnes of cargo. Of them, 16 held Ukrainian grain with a total volume of about 580,000 tons.

Russia has denied responsibility for the food crisis, blaming Western sanctions for slowing exports and Ukraine for mining the approaches to its ports.

Bombardment of ports

On Sunday, Russian missiles pounded Ukraine's port city Mykolaiv on the Black Sea as President Vladimir Putin signed a new naval doctrine casting the United States as Russia's main rival and setting maritime ambitions in the Black Sea and the Arctic.

Putin did not mention the conflict in Ukraine during a Navy Day speech but said the navy would receive hypersonic Zircon cruise missiles in coming months. The missiles can travel at nine times the speed of sound, outrunning air defenses. 

Navy Day celebrations in the port of Sevastopol were disrupted when five Russian navy staff members were injured by an explosion after a suspected drone flew into the courtyard of Russia's Black Sea fleet, the Crimean port city's governor, Mikhail Razvozhayev, told Russian media.

Reuters could not independently verify the battlefield reports.

Mykolaiv Mayor Oleksandr Senkevych said more than 12 missile strikes on Sunday, probably the most powerful on the city in five months of war, hit homes and schools, with two people confirmed killed and three wounded. Missile strikes continued into Sunday evening.

Ukrainian grain tycoon Oleksiy Vadatursky, founder and owner of agriculture company Nibulon, and his wife were killed in their home, Mykolaiv Governor Vitaliy Kim said on Telegram.

Headquartered in Mykolaiv, a strategically important city that borders the mostly Russian-occupied Kherson region, Nibulon specializes in the production and export of wheat, barley and corn, and has its own fleet and shipyard.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky described Vadatursky's death as "a great loss for all of Ukraine."

"It is these people, these companies, precisely the south of Ukraine, which has guaranteed the world's food security. This was always so. And it will be so once again."

Volodymyr Zelensky

Zelensky added that the businessman - one of Ukraine's richest with Forbes estimating his 2021 net worth at $430 million - had been building a modern grain market with a network of terminals and elevators.

"It is these people, these companies, precisely the south of Ukraine, which has guaranteed the world's food security," Zelensky said in his nightly address. "This was always so. And it will be so once again."

Zelensky said Ukraine may harvest only half its usual amount this year due to disruption to farming from the biggest conflict in Europe since World War Two. Farmers have reported trying to harvest in between Russian shelling of their fields.

Eastern danger

After failing to quickly capture the capital, Kyiv, early in the war, Russia has turned its focus towards Ukraine's east and south.

Zelensky said Russia had been transferring some forces from the eastern Donbas region to the southern Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions.

"As briefed by the Ukrainian authorities last week, Russia is likely reallocating a significant number of its forces from the northern Donbas sector to southern Ukraine," the British Ministry of Defence said in an intelligence update.

It said Russia was probably adjusting the operational design of its Donbas offensive and had likely identified its Zaporizhzhia front as vulnerable and in need of reinforcement.

Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and Ukraine says Russia is seeking to do the same with the Donbas region and link it to Crimea. Russian-backed separatist controlled parts of the region before the invasion.