The Sierra Leone-flagged cargo ship Razoni leaves the port of Odessa in southern Ukraine, on Monday. The shipment is a result of an agreement brokered by the United Nations and Turkey last month. Photo courtesy of Turkish Defense Ministry/EPA-EFE
Aug. 1 (UPI) -- For the first time since Russia invaded Ukraine over five months ago, a commercial ship loaded with grain has left Ukraine's southwestern port city of Odessa, officials said Monday, as a food crisis fueled by the conflict looms heavy over the globe.
The Merchant Vessel Razoni departed for Tripoli, Lebanon, carrying more than 26,500 tons of corn Monday morning.
The shipment is the first to leave Ukraine after Kyiv and Moscow agreed to allow grain exports to resume via a deal brokered by the United Nations and Turkey.
Ukraine's minister of infrastructure Oleksandr Kubrakov confirmed the ship had left the port via Twitter and foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a tweet that Monday was "the day of relief for the world."
"Thanks to the support of all our partner countries & [the United Nations] we were able to full implement the agreement signed in Istanbul," Kubrakov wrote.
Since the war began in February, experts have repeatedly voiced concern over the conflict deepening the international food crisis as the warring nations are responsible for 30% of the world's supply of wheat, 20% of its maize and 80% of its sunflower seed oil.
The World Food Program has said the fighting has caused the price of food, fuel and fertilizer to climb, putting millions at risk of starvation.
While the war raged and prices soared, food sat in storage at Ukrainian ports for months, as a Russian blockade of the Black Sea prevents ships from departing -- until the Razoni departed Monday.
The vessel's exit was made possible under the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which was signed July 22 in Istanbul.
"We hope this process will continue without interruptions and problems," Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey's foreign minister, said in a statement. "We'll do what is necessary to this end. We hope that the agreement will lead to a cease-fire and lasting peace."
The deal was signed by Russia and Ukraine following months of brokering by the United Nations and Turkey. It allows for exports from the three Ukrainian ports of Odessa, Chornomorsk and Yuzhny.
When the agreement was signed, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he hoped it represented "a fresh turning point that will rekindle hopes for peace."
On Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement that he hopes it means Razoni will be the first of many vessels that will leave the port under the agreement.
"This will bring much-needed stability and relief to global food security, especially in the most fragile humanitarian contexts," Guterres said through his spokesman, Stephane Dujarric.
During a press conference later Monday at the U.N. headquarters in New York, Guterres said the vessel was transporting two commodities that are in short supply: corn and hope.
"Hope for millions of people around the world who depend on the smooth running of Ukraine's ports to feed their families," he said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky described the working of the port in his nightly address late Monday as "the first positive signal" to alleviate the ongoing international food crisis but he warned that it was too early to hail the agreement as a success.
"Everything depends on the implementation of the security parameters of the initiatives," he said, adding that Russia is not to be trusted.
"We cannot have the illusions that Russia will simply refrain from trying to disrupt Ukrainian exports," he said. "So, we'll see how the agreements will work and whether there will really be security."
Sixteen vessels loaded for foodstuffs are awaiting to depart, he said.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also echoed this sentiment of cautious optimism while highlighting that there is some 20 million tons of food in silos due to the blockade of Odessa.
"The test will be in the days and weeks ahead," he said.
French President Emmanuel Macron also spoke with Zelensky by phone on Monday, stating that Europe will continue to export Ukrainian grains by land and river, according to a readout of the conversation for the Elysee Palace.
The World Food Program, which prior to the war purchased 50% of its grain from Ukraine, plans to buy, load and ship an initial 30,000 metric tons of wheat out of Ukraine now that the port is seemingly open, the U.N. said, stating further details will be released in the coming days.
The Razoni's departure was welcomed by Bridget Brink, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, who thanked the U.N., Turkey and Ukraine's negotiating team.
"The world will be watching for continued implementation of this agreement to feed people around the world with millions of tons of trapped Ukrainian grain," the embassy said.