July 30 (UPI) — Ukraine is ready to export grain for the first time since Russia invaded the country in February and blocked its ports on the Black Sea.
Standing in Odessa near loaded ships that could depart as early as this week, officials said they are now just waiting for a go-ahead from the United Nations, which brokered alongside Turkey a safe-passage deal for much-needed food products from Ukraine.
“We hope to receive approval today from the U.N. confirming the corridors we have proposed the ships take in the Black Sea,” Ukraine’s minister of infrastructure, Oleksandr Kubrakov, told reporters. “After [receiving approval] we are ready to begin … we hope that by the end of this week the first ship will leave our ports.”
Grain shipments have not shipped from Ukraine in some five months, worsening a growing worldwide food crisis. The country is a leading exporter of barley, corn, sunflower and wheat.
Arif Husain, chief economist of the U.N. World Food Program, said as many as 45 countries are now in “hunger emergencies, meaning one step away from famine.”
“The numbers do not lie — pre-COVID, we were looking at about 135 million people in crisis or the worst type of food security situation,” Husain said, according to The Guardian. “Today, including Ukraine’s impact, that number is 345 million.”
Diplomats said Saturday they were still working out details of the deal.
“Once all of those elements are in place, then we will start seeing the first movements,” U.N. official Ismini Palla told The New York Times. “The ultimate goal is to ensure the safe passage of commercial vessels.”
President Volodymyr Zelensky said Friday his country will continue to ensure the shipments go out.
“Concrete work on the restoration of Ukrainian grain exports began today in Odessa,” he told reporters, according to the Times. “I don’t want to make any forecast now; let’s see how the agreements on grain export will be implemented.”
Now, the pressure is on for Russia to maintain its side of the deal.
“Millions of people around the world are waiting for grain to come out of this and other Ukrainian ports,” Bridget Brink, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, said in Odessa. “It’s very important for Russia to live up to its commitments and to allow this grain to be exported.”