Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has visited the Odesa region to see the loading of grain as exports resume for the first time since the start of the Russian invasion.
Mr Zelensky observed a Turkish ship loaded with grain.
“The first vessel, the first ship is being loaded since the beginning of the war,” Mr Zelensky said.
He said the export of grain will begin with the departure of several ships that were already loaded but could not depart from Ukrainian ports.
“Our side is fully prepared. We sent all the signals to our partners — the UN and Turkey, and our military guarantees the security situation,” he said, adding “it is important for us that Ukraine remains the guarantor of global food security”.
The visits to the ports are part of a broader push by Ukraine to show the world they are nearly ready to export millions of tons of grains to the world after last week’s breakthrough agreement.
The complexities of the agreement and concerns about the safety of shipping crews has set the deal off to a slow, cautious start.
It has been a week since it was signed and no grain has yet left ports but the sides are facing a ticking clock — the deal is only set for 120 days.
It comes a week after Russian missiles struck Odesa, throwing into question Moscow’s commitment to the deal signed only hours earlier.
The sides agreed to facilitate the shipment of Ukrainian wheat and other grain from Black Sea routes blocked by five months of war, as well as fertiliser and food from Russia.
The goal over the next four months is to get some 20 million tons of grain out of three Ukrainian sea ports blocked since the February 24 invasion.
That provides time for about four to five large bulk carriers per day to transport grain from the ports to millions of impoverished people worldwide facing hunger.
“We are ready,” Ukraine’s minister of infrastructure Oleksandr Kubrakov told reporters at the port of Odesa on Friday.
But he said Ukraine is waiting on the UN to confirm the safe corridors that will be used by ships navigating the waters, which have been mined with explosives.
In the meantime, a ship at the port of Chernomorsk was being loaded with grain, he said.
Martin Griffiths, the UN official who mediated the deal, said the first shipment of grain could depart Ukrainian ports as early as Friday but cautioned that work is still being done to finalise the exact coordinates of the safest routes, saying this must be “absolutely nailed down”.
Lloyd’s List, a global publisher of shipping news, noted that while UN officials are pushing for the initial voyage this week to show progress in the deal, continued uncertainty on key details will likely prevent an immediate ramping up of shipments.
“Until those logistical issues and detailed outlines of safeguarding procedures are disseminated, charters will not be agreed and insurers will not be underwriting shipments,” wrote Bridget Diakun and Richard Meade of Lloyd’s List.
They note, however, that UN agencies, such as the World Food Programme, have already arranged to charter much of the grain for urgent humanitarian needs.
Getting wheat and other food out is critical to farmers in Ukraine, who are running out of storage capacity amid a new harvest. Those grains are vital to millions of people in Africa, parts of the Middle East and South Asia, who are already facing food shortages and, in some cases, famine.
Since the deal was signed a week ago, shipping companies have not rushed in because explosive mines are drifting in the waters, ship owners are assessing the risks and many still have questions over how the agreement will unfold.