Two cargo ships arrived at a Ukrainian port on Sunday, the first since Russia stopped a deal that let Ukraine ship food crops across the Black Sea. The ships pulled into Chornomorsk, sparking hope that Ukraine might find a new way to export grain.
Grain exports are crucial for Ukraine, bringing in foreign money and helping feed countries in Africa and the Middle East that are struggling with hunger. Since July, Russia has essentially blocked Ukrainian ships from exporting grain, shaking up global food prices.
However, setting up a new, safe shipping route from Ukraine is a big challenge. The Black Sea has become a hotspot in the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia, making it risky for ships to travel through.
Ukraine’s Infrastructure Minister, Oleksandr Kubrakov, announced on social media that two ships, Aroyat and Resilient Africa, are set to carry around 22,000 tons of wheat to Africa and Asia. Tracking data confirmed that the ships were docked in Chornomorsk on Sunday morning.
“First civilian vessels use the temporary corridor to reach Ukrainian ports,” Mr. Kubrakov said. “The vessels fly the flags of Palau, and their crew consists of citizens of Turkey, Azerbaijan, Egypt and Ukraine.” It was not clear when the ships would leave Chornomorsk.
The two cargo ships stayed close to the coast as they entered Ukrainian waters on Saturday. One sailed from Romania, and the other came from a port in Turkey, according to Marine Traffic data.
Things are still risky: Russia attacked a nearby port, Odesa, with drones and missiles on Sunday. The Ukrainian Air Force said they intercepted the attack, but these claims haven’t been confirmed yet.
Russia has been targeting grain facilities and ports in Ukraine ever since it pulled out of a deal that allowed grain shipments. Just last week, Ukraine retaliated by attacking Russia’s Black Sea fleet headquarters.
In July, Russia also warned that any ship entering a Ukrainian port could be considered as carrying military cargo, discouraging civilian ships from the area. They’ve even hit alternative ports along the Danube River.
About a month ago, a Russian patrol boat fired warning shots at a civilian ship in the Black Sea and inspected it. Three countries bordering the Black Sea are part of NATO, which usually deters attacks. But Ukraine isn’t a NATO member, although they’re trying to become one.
Efforts to bring back the grain shipping deal haven’t worked yet. In the meantime, Ukraine is looking for other ways to keep its exports going. Experts say these alternative routes come with risks and extra costs, putting a strain on Ukraine’s economy.
Last month, a cargo ship stuck in the Ukrainian port of Odesa since Russia’s invasion in February managed to sail out. It was the first to do so since Russia stopped a key grain shipping deal. The ship used a special sea lane that Ukraine’s government set up for safe civilian shipping, aiming to get grain exports and other goods moving again.
But things are heating up in the Black Sea. For the past three months, Ukraine has been trying to take back land it lost to Russia. While they haven’t broken through Russian defenses yet, they’ve stepped up drone attacks in Russia and Crimea.
This past Sunday, Russia said it took down a bunch of these Ukrainian drones. According to Russian officials, four were shot down over Crimea and others were stopped near Moscow. Moscow’s mayor also said they prevented another drone attack in the city. These claims haven’t been independently checked, and there’s been no word on any casualties or any comment from Ukraine.