KYIV, Ukraine—Ukraine dispatched its first grain shipment since the start of Russia’s invasion on Monday, under a deal aimed at easing global food shortages.
The ship departed the Odessa port carrying 26,000 metric tons of corn headed for Tripoli, Lebanon, according to Ukrainian officials and the Turkish government, which helped broker the deal. The Sierra Leone-flagged bulk carrier, the Razoni, is expected to arrive in Istanbul on Tuesday, and then continue on its course following inspections.
The shipment is the first test for a deal reached last month to allow Ukraine, one of the world’s largest grain exporters, to begin shipping some 18 million metric tons that Russia’s invasion in February has trapped in the country.
While the start of shipments is promising for Ukrainian farmers and the country’s mainly developing-world buyers, the flow of corn, wheat and barley will still be lower than before the war. It will take months to clear the backlog of grain, and this season’s harvests are expected to be depleted by the war. The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts Ukraine will export 30.6 million metric tons of grains and seeds over the 2022-23 season, almost half the tonnage of the season before.
The Razoni was escorted out of the port in the strategic southern city of Odessa by a Ukrainian government vessel. Inspection teams including officials from Turkey, the United Nations and Russia are set to check ships involved in the deal.
Further ships are expected to depart in the coming days, with several already loaded before the Russian invasion began. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday oversaw the first loading of a ship with grain since February at Chornomorsk port, near Odessa.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called the resumption of grain exports a “day of relief for the world, especially for our friends in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa.”
“Ukraine has always been a reliable partner and will remain one should Russia respect its part of the deal,” he wrote on Twitter.
The resumption of shipments offers hopes of crucial income to Ukraine as its economy buckles under the weight of Russia’s invasion. Farming accounted for over 40% of Ukrainian exports before the war and employs 14% of the country’s population, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It could offer a lifeline to Ukraine’s embattled farmers, granting them hard cash with which to buy the seeds, fuel and fertilizer they need to sow their next crops and ensure their survival.
Before the war, Russia and Ukraine together accounted for almost a third of all global wheat exports. Ukraine was also a major exporter of corn and barley. Ankara, together with the U.N., helped broker the July 22 agreement after months of negotiations.
The ship’s departure Monday signals that Ukraine, along with Turkey and the U.N., are determined to implement the grain deal despite the threat posed by Russia’s attacks on Ukrainian agricultural infrastructure.
Senior Ukrainian officials have expressed doubt as to whether Russia will uphold its end of the deal. Russian missiles struck the port of Odessa on July 23, just hours after officials from all four parties signed the agreement in Istanbul. Russian officials said the strike targeted military infrastructure.
The deal calls on Ukraine and Russia not to attack ships carrying grain, and to refrain from strikes on three ports covered by the deal. Officials from all four parties are set to monitor the deal from a new control center in Istanbul.
“We hope this process will continue without interruptions & problems,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Twitter. “We’ll do what is necessary to this end. We hope that the agreement will lead to a ceasefire & lasting peace.”
U.N. officials have said that one or more ships would likely leave Ukraine under the deal in the early days of the agreement in part to demonstrate that the agreement can work. The deal is in effect for 120 days and can be renewed.
Under the agreement, Ukrainian pilots are to guide commercial ships between sea mines that Ukraine placed near its ports to defend against Russian attacks. Ukraine was reluctant to remove any mines, saying that doing so would expose it to further attacks.
Before the war, almost all of Ukraine’s wheat, corn and sunflower oil went out through its Black Sea ports. Much of those supplies flowed to developing nations in Africa and the Middle East.
On Monday, the prices of wheat and corn fell 1.6% and 2.1%, respectively, as among other factors market participants anticipated higher supplies of Ukrainian grains.
Global wheat prices had already fallen significantly in recent weeks from the record highs they hit following Russia’s invasion, and are now close to their prewar levels. But wheat remains more than double the price it was five years ago and roughly as expensive as it was in late 2010 and early 2011, when high food prices helped spark the Middle East uprisings known as the Arab Spring.
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