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Ukraine is ready to export the first shipment of grains from the Odesa region, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Friday, adding that he is awaiting the “signal” from partners to release the vessels.
“The first vessel, the first ship is being loaded since the beginning of the war. This is a Turkish vessel. This shows that the port has started working,” Zelenskyy said during a visit to a port in the Odesa region.
Earlier this week, officials from the U.N., Turkey, Ukraine and Russia were scrambling to finalize details on how to safely transport ships through the Black Sea as Russian forces continue to pummel Ukraine’s coastline.
Despite the landmark deal reached between Kyiv and Moscow last week in an attempt to circumvent the global food crisis, Russian forces launched a series of missile strikes on Ukrainian port cities after agreeing to a limited cease fire.
Under the agreement, Russia agreed not to attack Ukrainian naval vessels or port infrastructure as Ukraine attempts to offload 22 million tons of grain to vulnerable and developing nations from Odesa, Chornomorsk, and Yuzhne.
However, Russia hit Odesa in a missile strike Saturday, followed by several attacks just days later in the Odesa-coastal towns of Yuzhne and Zatoka.
“Our side is fully prepared. We sent all the signals to our partners – the UN and Turkey, and our military guarantees the security situation,” Zelenskyy said Friday. “The Minister of Infrastructure is in direct contact with the Turkish side and the UN, we are waiting for a signal from them that we can start.”
The U.N. condemned Russia’s repeated strikes over the last week, but officials involved in the Black Sea Grain Initiative pushed forward with the deal. On Wednesday, deputy spokesman for the U.N. Secretary-General Farhan Haq championed the opening of the Joint Coordination Centre in Istanbul.
U.N. officials this week said they were hopeful the first shipment of grain and other food products could leave Ukrainian ports Friday. However, as of Thursday, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths said “crucial” details were still being hammered out.
“That is a detailed negotiation based on the agreement,” Griffiths told U.N. member states in a Thursday briefing, first reported Reuters. “It’s not just a matter of whether there is a ship, or two, or three available in the ports ready to move out.
“They need to move safely and that means that we have to be clear where exactly the channel is,” he added.