The first ship carrying Ukrainian grain was on its way to Istanbul after it set off from the Black Sea port of Odesa on August 1 under a UN-brokered deal, raising moderate hope that a looming global food crisis could be averted.
Ukraine and Russia signed agreements with Turkey and the United Nations on July 22 in Istanbul to free up three of Ukraine's ports -- Odesa, Chornomorsk, and Pivdenniy -- which had been blockaded since Russia launched the invasion of Ukraine in late February.
Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said the Razoni cargo ship, flying the flag of Sierra Leone, left Odesa on the morning of August 1, and Turkey's Defense Ministry said in a statement that the vessel was expected in Istanbul on August 2.
"The first grain ship since #RussianAggression has left port. Thanks to the support of all our partner countries & @UN we were able to fully implement the agreement signed in Istanbul," Kubrakov wrote on Twitter.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba hailed the departure of the first shipment of grain as a "relief for the world."
"The day of relief for the world, especially for our friends in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, as the first Ukrainian grain leaves Odesa after months of Russian blockade. Ukraine has always been a reliable partner and will remain one should Russia respect its part of the deal," Kuleba tweeted.
The Joint Coordination Center, the Istanbul-based organization overseeing the exports, said the Razoni is carrying "over 26,000 metric tons" of maize.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar told state-owned Anadolu news agency on August 1 that the Razoni would anchor off the coast of Istanbul around noon GMT on August 2 for a joint inspection.
The news was hailed by the international community, with UN chief Antonio Guterres "warmly" welcoming the move.
"The Secretary-General hopes that this will be the first of many commercial ships moving in accordance with the initiative signed, and that this will bring much-needed stability and relief to global food security, especially in the most fragile humanitarian contexts," the UN said in a statement.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg thanked alliance member Turkey for its "pivotal role."
"I welcome the first shipment of Ukrainian grain from Odesa under the UN-brokered deal. I thank our ally Turkey for its pivotal role," Stoltenberg tweeted.
"NATO allies strongly support the full implementation of the deal to ease the global food crisis caused by Russia's war in Ukraine," he added.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov hailed the news that the Razoni left Odesa as a "very positive" development and a "good opportunity to test the effectiveness of the mechanisms that were agreed during talks in Istanbul."
Russia had bombed Odesa a day after agreeing to the deal, raising questions about its commitment to the agreement.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Club of Agrarian Business Associations (UCAB) said on August 1 that Ukraine exported 3 million tons of agricultural produce last month, bypassing its Russia-blocked seaports.
In a statement on Facebook, UCAB said agricultural exports last month grew 12 percent from June, while grain exports rose 21 percent to 1.7 million tons.
More than 20 million tons of grain from last year's harvest are still awaiting export, according data from Ukraine.
President Volodymyr Zelensky said last week that Ukraine is ready to start shipping the millions of tons of grain sitting at its southern ports.
Ukraine and Russia are two of the world's largest grain exporters.
News of the expected resumption of grain shipments came as Russian missiles pounded the southern Ukrainian port city of Mykolayiv on July 31, killing the owner of a major grain exporter, while a drone strike hit Russia's Black Sea naval base in Sevastopol.
Oleksiy Vadatursky, 74, founder and owner of agriculture company Nibulon, and his wife were killed when a missile hit their home, Mykolayiv Governor Vitaliy Kim announced on Telegram.
Headquartered in Mykolayiv, a strategically important city that borders the Russia-occupied Kherson region, Nibulon specializes in the production and export of wheat, barley, and corn. The company maintains its own fleet and shipyard.
Zelensky described the death of Vadaturskiy, who had received the Hero of Ukraine award, as a great loss.
The southern Ukrainian city of Nikopol also came under heavy attack, the governor of Dnipropetrovsk, Valentyn Reznichenko, wrote on Telegram.
He said up to 50 Grad rockets had hit residential areas in Nikopol on July 31, wounding one man and damaging homes and gas and water pipes.
In eastern Ukraine, Russia continued to attempt tactical assaults on the Bakhmut axis, northeast of Donetsk, Britain's Defense Ministry said in its daily bulletin on August 1, adding that the Russians only managed to make slow progress.
British intel suggested that Russia is probably adjusting its offensive in the Donbas after failing to make a decisive operational breakthrough under the plan it had been following since April.
Zelensky has called on the remaining residents of the Donetsk region to urgently evacuate in what he called a "government decision."
"Everything is being organized. Full support, full assistance -- both logistical and payments. We only need a decision from the people themselves, who have not yet made it for themselves," he said in his nightly address on July 31.
"The sooner it is done, the more people leave Donetsk region now, the fewer people the Russian Army will have time to kill," Zelensky said.
In Russia-occupied Sevastopol, five Russian Navy staff members were wounded by an explosion after a presumed drone flew into the courtyard of Russia's Black Sea fleet, the Crimean port city's Moscow-appointed governor, Mikhail Razvozhayev, told Russian media.
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