Zelenskyy: Ukraine ‘waiting on signal’ to start grain exports

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Ukraine is ready to start shipments of grain under a deal it has signed with Turkey, Russia and the U.N., President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Friday.

Zelenskyy visited the Chornomorsk port in Odesa for the loading of the first ships. An official statement from his office said “exports may begin in the coming days.”

“Our side is fully prepared,” Zelenskyy said. “We sent all the signals to our partners – the UN and Turkey, and our military guarantees the security situation. The Minister of Infrastructure is in direct contact with the Turkish side and the UN, we are waiting for a signal from them that I we can start.”

On Thursday, the United Nations said the first cargo ship with grain could set sail on Friday.

Speaking to the press, the U.N.’s UnderSecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths said, “We are hopeful of course — planning, but hopeful — for the first ship movements to take place within days, hopefully tomorrow, out of those ports.” 

It’s still unclear which ships will be the first to leave the port. Ukraine said the first ship will be Turkish. Ukrainian Shipping Magazine, a trade publication, reported a Maltese-flagged, Bulgarian-owned ship called the Rojen is likely to be the first ship to sail out of Ukraine via the newly negotiated Black Sea safe corridor.

Griffiths said that details regarding the agreement — signed by Ukraine, Russia, the U.N. and Turkey last week — were still being worked out at the joint command center in Istanbul.

Under the deal, Moscow committed not to attack merchant vessels exporting grain from Ukrainian ports of Odesa, Chornomorsk and Pivdennyi, which have been blockaded since Russia’s invasion began. Ukraine, which depends on its agricultural exports, is hoping the deal will stick. Within 24 hours of the deal being signed, Russia had already struck Odesa with missiles and hit port infrastructure facilities.

At least 20 million tons of grains like wheat and corn are stuck inside Ukraine from last year’s harvest, with an extra 60 million tons expected this summer, Ukraine’s Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov told POLITICO this week. Global food prices and hunger have shot up because Ukraine is a major grain exporter to import-reliant countries in Africa and the Middle East.

Earlier this week, the Ukrainian government said that they expect to relaunch agri-food exports first from the port of Chornomorsk, followed by Odesa and Pivdennyi. All three ports are in the region of Odesa.

London and its insurance companies are in talks with the Ukrainian government to assist with ship insurance.

Because of the high risk of ships running into difficulty as they cross the warzone, insurance premiums are also steep — in some instances 20 times more expensive than before the war.