The first cargo vessels to arrive at a Ukrainian port since Russia ended a deal under which Kyiv could export food crops across the Black Sea docked Sunday in Chornomorsk, offering early sign of hope that Ukraine may open an alternative route for grain shipments. .
Ukraine’s grain exports provide an important source of foreign exchange and are also important for global food markets, particularly for countries in Africa and the Middle East that face hunger. Russia has imposed a de facto blockade on Ukrainian cargo ships since July, when the Kremlin ended an agreement that allowed Kyiv to export grain by sea, an agreement considered vital to stability. world food prices.
But establishing a corridor safe enough for a regular flow of cargo vessels to sail from Ukrainian ports is risky, not least because the Black Sea has become an increasingly critical theater of war as Ukraine is fighting Russian naval dominance.
The bulk carrier Aroyat and the cargo vessel Resilient Africa are expected to carry about 22,000 tons of wheat for countries in Africa and Asia, Ukraine’s infrastructure minister, Oleksandr Kubrakov, said Saturday at a post on X, formerly known as Twitter. Data from the Marine Traffic website showed that the ships were moored in Chornomorsk on Sunday morning.
“The first civilian vessels use the temporary corridor to reach Ukrainian ports,” Mr. Kubrakov said. “The ships fly Palau flags, and their crews are made up of citizens of Turkey, Azerbaijan, Egypt and Ukraine.” It is unclear when the ships will leave Chornomorsk.
Both ships hugged the coast once they entered Ukrainian waters on Saturday, according to data from the Marine Traffic website. Stable Africa departs from the Romanian port of Constanta, while Aroyat departs from a port in Turkey.
Under the threat, Russia launched a drone and missile attack on Sunday on the Black Sea port of Odesa, just a few miles north from Chornomorsk, hitting an agricultural facility in the region, according to Ukraine’s Air Force.
Ukrainian forces intercepted six drones and six missiles, the air force said in a post on the Telegram messaging app. Claims cannot be independently verified.
Russia has repeatedly launched missiles and drones at grain facilities and the port of Odesa since it ended the Black Sea Grain Initiative, a deal brokered by Turkey and the United Nations that within a year had established a corridor through which Ukraine can send wheat, barley and other crops. Russia also hit Ukraine’s Danube River ports of Izmail and Reni, which are increasingly used as alternatives to major ports along the Black Sea.
In addition to voiding the grain deal, Russia said in July it would consider any ship sailing into a Ukrainian port as potentially carrying military cargo, in a clear warning to civilian shipping. Last month, a Russian patrol vessel fired a warning shot at a civilian vessel in the Black Sea and then boarded it to conduct an inspection.
Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania — three of the six countries bordering the Black Sea — are NATO members, a fact that would likely deter any country seeking to attack a ship in its waters. Kyiv, however, does not benefit from the alliance’s protective umbrella, even as it presses for membership, which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky sees as a key strategic goal.
Talks to revive the grain agreement have yet to bear fruit and, in the meantime, Ukraine has sought a unilateral way to facilitate its exports. Agricultural experts say that, while Ukraine has been able to increase the amount of goods it brings to the Danube River ports, the process is not without risk and is more expensive, thus undermining an important sector of Ukraine’s economy.
Last month, a civilian cargo ship stuck in Odesa since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 became the first to venture out of port and into the Black Sea since Moscow withdrew from grain deal. The ship used a corridor in Ukrainian territorial waters established by Ukraine’s Ministry of Infrastructure for civilian vessels, as part of Kyiv’s efforts to resume exports of grain and other goods.
But fighting in the Black Sea has also escalated in the three months since Ukraine launched a counter-offensive to regain territory lost to Russia in the south and east. That attack has yet to achieve a decisive victory over Russian defenses, but Ukraine has also increased its drone attacks on Russian soil and in the occupied Crimea region.
Last week, Ukraine fired 10 cruise missiles and launched sea drones at the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, which is in the occupied Crimean port city of Sevastopol. The attack severely damaged two vessels and started a fire at a shipyard, according to officials from both sides.
On Sunday, Russia’s Defense Ministry said it had destroyed a wave of Ukrainian drones fired at targets in Crimea and the Moscow region. It told Telegram that Russian air defenses shot down four drones on the northwestern and eastern coasts of Crimea overnight.
At the same time, it said in separate posts, Ukrainian drones were intercepted in the Domodedovo and Istrinsky districts of the Moscow region. A third attack in Moscow, in the Ramenesky region, also failed, according to the city’s mayor, Sergei S. Sobyanin. Claims cannot be independently verified. There were no immediate reports of casualties, and no immediate comment from Ukraine.
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