United Nations chief Antonio Guterres “warmly welcomes” the departure Monday of a first ship carrying Ukrainian grain under a plan to lift Russia’s naval blockade, a spokesperson said.
“The Secretary-General hopes that this will be the first of many commercial ships moving in accordance with the initiative signed, and that this will bring much-needed stability and relief to global food security, especially in the most fragile humanitarian contexts,” the UN said in a statement.
The first shipment of Ukrainian grain left the port of Odessa on Monday morning, Turkey announced, as Kyiv said the “brutal” shelling by Moscow of the southern city Mykolaiv had killed an agriculture tycoon.
The blockage of deliveries from warring Russia and Ukraine — two of the world’s biggest grain exporters — has contributed to soaring food prices, hitting the world’s poorest nations especially hard.
Last month both sides signed a landmark deal with Turkey and the United Nations aimed at relieving the global food crisis.
“The ship Razoni has left the port of Odessa bound for Tripoli in Lebanon,” the Turkish ministry said in a statement.
“It is expected in Istanbul on August 2. It will then continue its journey after it has been inspected in Istanbul,” the statement added.
Other convoys would follow, respecting the maritime corridor and the agreed formalities, it said.
The Joint Coordination Centre, the organisation overseeing the grain exports, said the Razoni is carrying “over 26,000 metric tonnes” of maize.
While the much-needed grain exports will be welcomed, the war in Ukraine rages on.
AFP journalists witnessed intense Russian bombardment of the eastern town of Bakhmut after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for civilians to leave the frontline Donetsk region bearing the brunt of the Kremlin’s offensive.
Authorities in Mykolaiv said Sunday that widespread Russian bombardments overnight killed at least two civilians.
“Today, one of the most brutal shellings of Mykolaiv and the region over the entire period of the full-scale war took place. Dozens of missiles and rockets,” Zelensky said in an address.
“I want to thank every resident of Mykolaiv for their indomitability.”
Ukrainian agricultural magnate Oleksiy Vadatursky, 74, and his wife Raisa were killed when a missile struck their house, authorities said.
Vadatursky owned major grain exporter Nibulon and was previously decorated with the prestigious “Hero of Ukraine” award.
Zelensky offered condolences and paid tribute to Vadatursky in his Sunday address.
Mykolaiv — which has been attacked frequently — is the closest Ukrainian city to the southern front where Kyiv’s forces are looking to launch a major counter-offensive to recapture territory lost after Russia’s February invasion.
Russian authorities in the Crimean Black Sea peninsula — seized by Moscow from Ukraine in 2014 — said a small explosive device from a commercial drone, likely launched nearby, hit the navy command in Sevastopol.
The local mayor blamed “Ukrainian nationalists” for the attack that forced the cancellation of festivities marking Russia’s annual holiday celebrating the navy.
But Ukraine’s navy accused Russia of staging the attacks as a pretext to cancel the festivities.
The claim and counterclaim came as the dispute over which side struck a jail holding Ukrainian prisoners of war in Kremlin-controlled Olenivka rumbled on.
Russia’s defence ministry said Sunday it had invited the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the United Nations to visit the site “in the interests of an objective investigation”.
But the ICRC said Sunday it had yet to receive approval to enter the site.
Russia’s military said 50 Ukrainian servicemen died, including troops who had surrendered after weeks of resisting the bombardment of the Azovstal steelworks in the port city of Mariupol.
Ukraine says Russia was behind the attack, with Zelensky accusing Moscow of the “deliberate mass murder of Ukrainian prisoners of war”.
AFP journalists on Sunday saw one wounded man collected by an ambulance after a ferocious bombardment of the town of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region.
Zelensky warned on the weekend that thousands of people, including children, were still in Donetsk’s battleground areas.
He urged people to leave the besieged region, echoing calls from the authorities in recent weeks to evacuate.
“Leave, we will help,” Zelensky said. “At this stage of the war, terror is the main weapon of Russia.”
Official Ukrainian estimates put the number of civilians still living in the unoccupied area of Donetsk at between 200,000 and 220,000.
A mandatory evacuation notice posted Saturday evening said the coming winter made it a matter of urgency, particularly for the more than 50,000 children.
Kateryna Novakivska, a deputy commander of a Ukrainian unit, said she was fighting so her comrades could be reunited with their families.
“The morale of our servicemen is at a high level now, but everyone wants to visit their homes, see their relatives and loved ones,” she said.
Ukraine said Monday it expects to export its first grain shipments under a UN-backed deal to lift Russia’s blockade “this week”, days after missile strikes by the Kremlin threw the accord into doubt.
But while grain shipments seemed ready to resume for the first time since the Kremlin’s invasion five months ago, Russia’s natural gas giant Gazprom added to the geopolitical tensions by warning it would drastically cut deliveries to Europe again.
Kyiv and Moscow on Friday agreed a landmark plan to release millions of tonnes of wheat and other grain trapped in Ukraine’s Black Sea ports in a move hailed as a major step to averting a global food crisis.
Less than 24 hours later Moscow struck the port in Odessa — one of three exit hubs designated in the agreement — sparking fury in Kyiv and heightening fears the Kremlin would not go through with the deal.
But despite the weekend attack, Ukraine’s infrastructure minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said Kyiv expected to see the agreement begin “working in the coming days”.
“We are preparing for everything to start this week,” said Kubrakov, who led Ukraine’s delegation at last week’s grain talks in Istanbul.
Ukrainian officials said the port of Chornomorsk in southwestern Ukraine would be the first to be opened and insisted on the importance of security following the strike on nearby Odessa.
Kubrakov said de-mining will take place “exclusively” in the shipping lanes required for grain exports, while Ukrainian ships will accompany the departing convoys that will transport not only grain but also fertiliser.
After speaking to Kubrakov by phone, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar welcomed Ukraine’s resolve to resume the shipments.
“It is important that the first ship starts sailing as soon as possible,” Akar said in a statement.
Ukraine and Russia are major exporters of agricultural products, but Moscow’s invasion has severely disrupted Ukrainian wheat exports as the fighting damaged harvests and left ports blocked and mined.
Russia’s naval blockade helped send global prices soaring and sparked fears of famine as it left up to 25 million tonnes of wheat and other grains stranded in Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has estimated the value of grain stocks to be exported under the deal at around $10 billion.
– Kremlin’s shifting narrative –
The Kremlin insisted Monday that its strikes on Odessa “should not affect” the Turkish-brokered push to send the grain to world markets.
Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow’s cruise missiles hit “exclusively” military infrastructure and were “not connected with the agreement on the export of grain.”
Turkey, which helped broker the accord, said after the attack that it had received assurances from Moscow that Russian forces were not responsible.
Moscow then admitted that it had carried out the strikes, but claimed to have targeted a Ukrainian military vessel and arms delivered by Washington.
Russia has looked to shift the blame for the food crisis onto Western sanctions and foreign minister Sergei Lavrov was visiting Africa on a tour aimed at bolstering Moscow’s ties in the face of growing isolation.
Lavrov, who is visiting Uganda, Ethiopia and Congo-Brazzaville, told his Egyptian counterpart on his first stop that Russia would meet grain orders.
Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhaylo Podolyak slammed the visit as a cynical ploy by Moscow after it had fuelled the food crisis.
“You arranged the artificial hunger and then come to cheer people up,” he said on Twitter, assuring that Ukrainian grain will reach its destinations.
“Whether Moscow wants or not, Ukrainian grain will reach the world.”
– Gazprom gas cut –
The deal for grain exports has done little to ease the geopolitical tensions between the West and Moscow over the invasion.
Gazprom, the Russian energy giant, unexpectedly announced it was cutting daily deliveries of gas to Europe via the Nord Stream pipeline to 33 million cubic metres a day — about 20 percent of the pipeline’s capacity — from Wednesday.
The company said it was halting the operation of one of the last two operating turbines due to the “technical condition of the engine”.
The government of Germany, which receives the gas directly by the undersea energy link, said there was “no technical reason” for Gazprom’s announcement.
Russia’s forces continue to press on with their grinding push across Ukraine’s southeast, where Kyiv’s forces are being boosted by fresh Western military aid shipments.
The Ukrainian presidency said Monday that a Russian strike trapped seven people under the rubble of a collapsed cultural centre in the northeastern Kharkiv region. Three were pulled out alive and the rescue operation was ongoing.
It said shelling continued across the entire front line and at least one person was killed in the town of Soledar.
In the south — where Kyiv has vowed a major counter-offensive to retake the strategic Kherson region — officials said Ukrainian forces stopped a Russian push in several villages.
Ukraine’s bid to oust the Kremlin’s forces has been bolstered by longer range Western weapons that have allowed Kyiv to target Russian supply lines deeper in occupied areas.
Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said Ukraine had received the first of an expected 15 Gepard anti-aircraft systems and tens of thousands of shells from Germany in the latest foreign arms to arrive.
The Governor of Anambra State, Willie Obiano, has distributed over 45,000 bags of 50kg ‘Anambra Rice’ to the state’s workers.
It is grown, processed and packaged by farmers in the state.
The rice was distributed to 45,000 civil servants at the state, Local Government, agency and parastatal levels.
According to the Governor, the distribution is in line with his resolve to make Anambra State the leader in rice production in Nigeria.
The distribution began with Awka South Local Government Area, where 1,220 bags were distributed to Local Government staff and teachers for the season’s celebration.
Handing over the gifts to workers on behalf of the Governor, the state Commissioner for Agriculture, Mr Afam Mbanefo, said the mandate of the Governor was being fulfilled and that by 2016, Anambra would begin rice exportation. He disclosed that remarkable growth had been recorded in rice production in the state.
The Special Adviser to the Governor on Finance, Mr Tony Oli, oversaw the distribution in Awka South Local Government Area.
Some of the beneficiaries expressed appreciation over the gesture and assured the Governor of solid support for his government, since he made the welfare of workers in the state a priority.
The World Bank on Monday said it stood ready to help governments respond to a broad-based run-up in grain prices that has again put the world’s poorest people at risk and could have lingering detrimental impacts for years.
“We cannot allow short-term food-price spikes to have damaging long-term consequences for the world’s most poor and vulnerable,” World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said in statement.
“The World Bank and our partners are monitoring this situation closely so we can help governments put policies in place to help people better cope,” said Kim, a public health expert facing his biggest challenge in two months on the job.
A severe drought in the U.S. Midwest has cut projected grain yields dramatically, reviving memories of 2008 when a sharp increase in food prices caused riots in some countries and raised questions about the use of crops to make biofuels.
Wheat prices have jumped more than 50 percent and corn prices more than 45 percent since mid-June, with dry conditions in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, excessively wet weather in Europe and a below average start to the Indian monsoon season adding to global crop worries.
Prices for soybeans, a critical food and animal feed crop, also have risen almost 30 percent over the past two months and nearly 60 percent since the end of last year.
“When food prices rise, families cope by pulling their kids out of school and eating cheaper, less nutritious food, which can have catastrophic life-long effects on the social, physical, and mental well being of millions of young people,” Kim said.
Kim said the bank has a number of programs to help governments should the situation worsen.
Those include policy advice, increased agriculture and agriculture-related investment, fast-track financing, risk management products and work with the United Nations and private voluntary groups to help governments make more informed responses to global food price spikes.
“In the short-term, measures such as school feeding programs, conditional cash transfers, and food-for-work programs can help to ease pressure on the poor,” Kim said. “In the medium- to long-term, the world needs strong and stable policies and sustained investments in agriculture in poor countries.”
World Bank officials stressed there is no indication, based on current crop forecasts, of any major grain shortages resulting from the reduced harvests this year.
In addition, lower prices for oil, fertilizer and shipping than in 2008 will ease the cost of importing food and planting next year’s crop, the bank said.
But Marc Sadler, head of agriculture risk management at the World Bank, said the situation is also “more complicated” than in 2008, when rice and wheat prices rose the most and then fell sharply the next year when plantings increased.
“The difference now is, if you look across the board, all prices are up,” making it tougher for farmers to decide how to allocate their acreage, Sadler said.
“When corn prices are up, bean prices are up and wheat prices are up, which one, as a farmer, do you go for?”g he said.
Sadler underscored Kim’s point about the threat food shortages pose to a country’s long-term vitality.
“One of the most pernicious facts out there is that in the first thousand days of a child’s life, they develop 80 percent of their brains. So, malnutrition in those first thousand days has a long-lasting impact,” he said.