First cargo ships dock in Ukraine after Russia exits grain deal

Two cargo ships arrived in one of Ukraine's ports over the weekend, using a temporary Black Sea corridor established by Kyiv following Russia's withdrawal from a wartime agreement designed to ensure safe grain exports from the invaded country’s ports.

Two Palau-flagged bulk carriers, Aroyat and Resilient Africa, docked Saturday at the seaport of Chornomorsk in the southern Odesa region, according to an online statement by the Ukrainian Sea Ports Authority. The vessels are the first civilian cargo ships to reach one of the Odesa ports since Russia exited the grain deal.

Oleksandr Kubrakov, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, said in an online statement Saturday that the two ships will be delivering some 20,000 tons of wheat to countries in Africa and Asia.

For months, Ukraine, whose economy is heavily dependent on farming, was able to safely export its grain from Black Sea ports under a deal brokered by the United Nations and Turkey to ensure safe shipments. But Russia withdrew from the deal on 17 July, with Kremlin officials arguing their demands for Russian food and fertiliser shipments had not been met.

Following the withdrawal, the Russian Defence Ministry said it would regard any vessels in the Black Sea headed to Ukrainian ports as military targets.

Since then, Kyiv has sought to reroute transport through the Danube River as well as road and rail links into Europe. But transport costs over land are much higher. Some European countries have baulked at the consequential prices of local grain while the Danube's ports are struggling to handle the same volume as seaports.

The interim corridor in the Black Sea, which Kyiv had asked the International Maritime Organization to ratify, was opened on 10 August as US and Ukrainian officials warned of possible Russian attacks on civilian vessels.

Sea mines also make the voyage risky, and ship insurance costs are likely to be high for operators.

Kubrakov said Saturday that five vessels have since used the new corridor to leave Ukrainian ports.

After tearing up the grain deal, Russia intensified attacks on the southern Odesa region, targeting its port infrastructure and grain silos with missiles and drones.

On Sunday, Ukraine's Air Force Command reported another attack overnight in which the Odesa region was the main target. Russian forces fired 10 cruise missiles and six Iranian-made Shahed drones, the statement said. All drones and six missiles were downed, while the rest hit an agricultural facility in the Odesa region.