Wednesday, August 10, 2022

First Ukrainian grain shipment since invasion heads to Istanbul

First Ukrainian grain shipment since invasion heads to Istanbul
August 2, 2022 Web Desk

KYIV, Ukraine (AFP) - The first shipment of Ukrainian grain to leave Odessa since Russia's invasion is expected in Istanbul "after midnight", Ankara said Tuesday, under a landmark deal to lift Moscow's naval blockade in the Black Sea.

As the cargo vessel carrying the long-awaited consignment hugged the Bulgarian coastline, Kyiv announced it had begun mandatory evacuations from the war-torn Donetsk region at the heart of the Kremlin's gruelling assault.

In Moscow, Russia's supreme court labelled Ukraine's Azov regiment a "terrorist" organisation in a move that could pave the way for fighters captured by the Kremlin to face lengthy jail terms. The Sierra Leone-registered ship, Razoni, set sail from Odessa for Lebanon Monday under an accord brokered by Turkey and the United Nations aimed at getting millions of tonnes of trapped produce to world markets and curb a global food crisis.

Turkish officials said it would arrive in Istanbul "after midnight".

The ship had cautiously made its way through a specially cleared corridor in the mine-infested waters of the Black Sea.

The Marine Traffic website showed the vessel -- which is carrying 26,000 tonnes of maize -- off the coast of Bulgaria by 1200 GMT.

It will be inspected by a special coordination centre involving representatives of Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the UN at sea in the mouth of the Bosphorus before being allowed to progress.

The five-month halt of deliveries from Ukraine -- one of the world's biggest grain exporters -- has contributed to soaring food prices, hitting the world's poorest nations especially hard. Kyiv says at least 16 more grain ships are waiting to depart.

"Let's wait and see how the agreement works and whether security will be really guaranteed," Zelensky said in a video address late Monday. The breakthrough pact signed in July was the first significant accord involving Ukraine and Russia since Moscow invaded its neighbour on February 24.

Donetsk evacuations

Yet Russia has continued to pound cities and towns across Ukraine's sprawling front line. Kyiv said it had started mandatory evacuations from the eastern region of Donetsk bearing the brunt of the Russian offensive after Zelensky urged the estimated 200,000 remaining residents to leave.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said a train carrying "women, children, elderly people, many people with reduced mobility" arrived in the central city of Kropyvnytskyi on Tuesday morning. More than 130 people were evacuated from the Donetsk region, governor Pavel Kyrylenko said.

Officials have said they want to get residents out of the battered region before the start of winter as gas pipes for heating have been severed. In the south of the country, the head of Ukraine's Kryviy Rig military administration said Russian shelling had killed two civilians in a minibus trying to leave the Moscow-controlled Kherson region.

Oleksander Vilkul said two other passengers were in serious condition in hospital with burns. The mayor of the city of Mykolaiv, the closest to where Ukrainian forces are looking to launch a counter-offensive in Kherson, said Russian strikes had damaged a university dormitory.

More Western arms 

He said in a briefing that 403 people had been killed in his region since the invasion but added that a looming Ukraine counter-offensive for the neighbouring Kherson region "will result in a decrease of shelling".

Ukraine was bolstered by more supplies of Western arms -- particularly long-range artillery -- as it looks launch a major push in the south to retake Kherson. The United States announced a new tranche of weapons worth $550 million for Ukraine's forces, including ammunition for increasingly important rocket launchers and artillery guns.

"Our artillerymen are ready to turn night into day to expel the Russian invaders," Ukraine's Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said. In Moscow meanwhile, Russia paved the way for handing tough prison sentences to captured members of Ukraine's Azov regiment.

Fighters from Azov were among 2,500 Ukrainian soldiers who surrendered in May after weeks of fierce resistance at the Azovstal steel plant in devastated Mariupol. The regiment -- which was incorporated into Ukraine's national guard in 2014 -- is demonised by Moscow for alleged far-right links.

It members were among 50 Ukrainian servicemen killed last week in an attack on a jail holding prisoners of war in Russian-occupied territory. Ukraine has accused Moscow of deliberately executing the detainees, while Russia says Ukrainian forces hit the facility with missiles.

Azov, in response to the Russian court ruling, called on the US and other countries to recognise Russia as a "terrorist state".