The first grain ship to depart Ukraine under a wartime deal has entered the Bosporus Strait on the way to Lebanon after its cargo was checked and approved, Turkish and Ukrainian authorities said.
An inspection team spent about 90 minutes conducting checks aboard the Sierra Leone-flagged Razoni, which was carrying Ukrainian corn and anchored off Istanbul, Turkey’s Defence Ministry said.
The team included officials from Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations.
The Razoni’s horn rang out as the inspectors left the ship.
Pictures tweeted by the Turkish Ministry of Defence showed an inspector reaching into an open container on the Razoni and touching the grain.
The Razoni, which the United Nations says is carrying 26,527 tons of corn, set sail on Monday from Odesa on Ukraine’s Black Sea coast.
From Istanbul, it is on a voyage to cross the Bosporus Strait, a 19-mile scenic waterway connecting the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara, before sailing on to Lebanon, its final destination.
Inspectors, some wearing white helmets, headed out to the Razoni amid rain in two boats, escorted by the Turkish coast guard.
Turkish media said there were about 20 inspectors.
The checks are intended to ensure that outbound cargo vessels are bearing only grain, fertiliser or related food items and not any other commodities, and that inbound ships are not carrying weapons.
Ukraine’s Ministry of Infrastructure confirmed the Razoni had passed the inspection.
It said 17 other vessels “are loaded and are awaiting permission to leave” Ukrainian ports.
Some 27 vessels have been waiting in three Ukrainian ports with cargo and signed contracts, ready to go, according to UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.
There was no word about when those ships might set sail, although more are expected to depart Ukraine in the coming days.
Russia and Ukraine signed separate agreements with Turkey and the United Nations on July 22 to end a wartime stand-off that threatened food security around the globe.
However, the ongoing war and mistrust between Kyiv and Moscow have threatened to derail the deal, which is due to expire after 120 days.
An estimated 20 million tons of grain have been stuck in Ukraine since the start of the six-month-old war.
The UN-brokered agreement provided for the establishment of safe corridors through the mined waters outside Ukraine’s ports.
Most of the grain stuck in Ukraine is to feed livestock, according to David Laborde, an expert at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington.
Only six million tons is wheat, and just half of that is for human consumption, Mr Laborde said.
He said the Razoni is loaded with chicken feed.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the resumption of grain exports will reduce Russian authorities’ ability to extract concessions from the West.
“They are losing one of the opportunities to terrorise the world,” he said in his nightly video address late on Tuesday.
Russia’s war against Ukraine has also disrupted energy supplies in western Europe, with Moscow drastically cutting how much it sends amid fears it could stop sending any at all.
Meanwhile, the UN nuclear chief warned that Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in Ukraine “is completely out of control” and urgent steps are needed to avoid a nuclear accident.
Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said in an interview with the Associated Press that the situation is getting more perilous every day at the Zaporizhzhia plant in the south-eastern city of Enerhodar, which Russian troops seized in early March, soon after their February 24 invasion of Ukraine.
“Every principle of nuclear safety has been violated” at the plant, he said.
“What is at stake is extremely serious and extremely grave and dangerous.”
He issued an urgent plea to Russia and Ukraine to quickly allow experts to visit the sprawling complex.
Meanwhile, Russian forces kept up their bombardment of the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv, hitting it with shells twice over the past 24 hours – around 9pm on Tuesday and 5am on Wednesday, governor of the Mykolaiv region Vitaliy Kim reported.
The shelling damaged a pier, an industrial enterprise, residential buildings, a garage co-operative, a supermarket and a pharmacy, Mr Kim said.
It was not immediately clear if there were any casualties.
Mykolaiv is a southern port city, somewhat on a par with Odesa, and is located on the Black Sea.
The Russians said in April they want control over not just eastern but southern Ukraine too.
Taking over Odesa and Mykolaiv in the south will give them control over the entire Black Sea coast and a land corridor to the breakaway Moldovan region of Transnistria.
In eastern Ukraine, Russian shelling killed at least four civilians in Donetsk province in 24 hours, Ukraine’s presidential office said on Wednesday.
Amid the relentless onslaught by Moscow’s forces, Mr Zelensky issued an order to all those remaining in the country’s embattled Donetsk region to evacuate as soon as possible.
The compulsory evacuation effort aims to take 200,000-220,000 people out of the eastern province by autumn, officials say.
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