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    First Ukrainian grain shipment since invasion heads to Istanbul

    AFP – The first shipment of Ukrainian grain to leave Odessa since Russia’s invasion is expected in Istanbul “after midnight”, Ankara said yesterday, 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 on Monday under an accord brokered by Turkey and the United Nations (UN) 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 said 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 on Monday.

    The breakthrough pact signed in July was the first significant accord involving Ukraine and Russia since Moscow invaded its neighbour on February 24.

    Bulk carrier M/V Razoni, carrying a cargo of 26,000 tonnes of corn, leaves Ukraine’s port of Odessa, en route to Tripoli in Lebanon. PHOTO: AFP
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