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Ukraine is exporting grain first time since Russian invasion

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For the first time since Russia invaded Ukraine more than five months ago, a ship loaded with grain left a port in Ukraine’s Odesa region on Monday following an international deal that could ease global food prices and bring relief to countries facing hunger by allowing Ukraine to restart grain shipments in the Black Sea.

The ship, the Razoni, which weighed anchor at the port of Odesa, was led by a government vessel through a maze of mines that had been laid by Ukrainian forces to forestall any attempt by Moscow to launch an amphibious assault on Odesa. A rescue ship followed and Russia’s Navy, which controls the Black Sea, granted safe passage.

The Razoni was carrying 26,000 metric tons of corn, the United Nations said. The vessel had been stuck in port since Feb. 18, before the start of the war.

Ukraine’s minister of infrastructure, Oleksandr Kubrakov, said the ship left around 9:30 a.m. local time. There are 16 more ships waiting to leave Odesa in coming days, he said. It was headed toward Istanbul, then Lebanon, according to Ukrainian and Turkish officials.

The voyage is one step toward addressing one of the far-reaching consequences of the invasion launched by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in February. Russia’s blockade of grain in Ukraine, one of the world’s breadbaskets, has sent global grain prices soaring and brought the threat of famine to tens of millions of people, particularly in the Middle East and Africa.

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Russia, whose exports have been hit by sanctions, and Ukraine supply more than a quarter of the world’s wheat, and Russia is a major supplier of fertilizer. Ukraine is also a leading exporter of barley, corn and sunflower.

If successful, the deal to export grain could have significant economic consequences for Ukraine, as well as for international markets. Ukraine’s agriculture minister, Mykola Solskyi, said last week that there was $10 billion worth of grain stored in Ukraine and that the incoming harvest would add a further $20 billion to that amount.

Since the war began, the European Union and other Western countries have explored overland routes for the country’s grain, but such alternatives have proved to be more costly, slower and less effective.

Under a deal signed on July 22 in Istanbul after months of negotiations brokered by the United Nations and Turkey, Ukraine can ship some 20 million tons of grain that has been blocked at its Black Sea ports. The agreement — the first deal that Russia and Ukraine have publicly signed since the war began — was cast into uncertainty a day later, when Russia launched a missile attack on the port of Odesa. But progress on establishing shipping routes and inspection protocols continued without interruption.

To manoeuvre the grain out of port, Ukrainian captains will navigate safe passages mapped by the country’s navy through the mines. The shipments will follow a route to Turkish ports approved by the Russian Navy, which has demanded that the unloaded ships are inspected before they return to Ukraine to ensure they carry no weapons.

Teams from Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the U.N. will jointly carry out the inspections, and a joint command centre set up in Istanbul is to monitor the movement of grain.

The agreement will last 120 days, but it could be renewed on a rolling basis.

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