The first ship to set sail from Ukraine with grain exports since the beginning of the Russian invasion is due to leave on Monday under a guaranteed safe passage agreement, Turkey's defence ministry said, adding that more will follow.
The Sierra Leone-flagged ship Razoni will set off from Odesa port for Lebanon with its cargo of corn, the ministry said.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine on Feb 24 has sparked a worldwide food and energy crisis that is shaking the global economy. The United Nations has warned of a global hunger crisis with a “real risk” of multiple famines this year.
Russia and Ukraine account for nearly a third of global wheat exports. But Western sanctions on Russia and fighting along Ukraine's eastern seaboard have prevented grain ships safely leaving ports.
The Razoni's departure was made possible after Moscow, Kyiv, Ankara and the United Nations signed a grain-and-fertiliser export agreement in July. The deal aims to allow safe passage for grain shipments in and out of Chornomorsk, Odesa and the port of Pivdennyi.
“It was agreed for the Sierra Leone-flagged cargo ship named Razoni, which is loaded with corn, to depart from the Odesa port at 08:30 in the morning (05:30 GMT) on Aug 1 to go to Lebanon,” Turkey's defence ministry said in a note.
“Deployment of other ships are planned within the scope of the determined corridor and method” as part of the July agreement, it said.
Ukrainian officials have said there were 17 ships docked in Ukraine's Black Sea ports with almost 600,000 tonnes of cargo. Of them, 16 held Ukrainian grain with a total volume of about 580,000 tonnes.
Russia has denied responsibility for the food crisis, blaming Western sanctions for slowing exports and Ukraine for mining the approaches to its ports.
Bombardment of ports
On Sunday, Russian missiles pounded Ukraine's port city Mykolaiv on the Black Sea as President Vladimir Putin signed a new naval doctrine casting the United States as Russia's main rival and setting maritime ambitions in the Black Sea and Arctic.
Putin did not mention the conflict in Ukraine during a Navy Day speech but said the navy would receive hypersonic Zircon cruise missiles in coming months. The missiles can travel at nine times the speed of sound, outrunning air defences.
Navy Day celebrations in the port of Sevastopol were disrupted when five Russian navy staff members were injured by an explosion after a suspected drone flew into the courtyard of Russia's Black Sea fleet, the Crimean port city's governor, Mikhail Razvozhayev, told Russian media.
Reuters could not independently verify the battlefield reports.
Mykolaiv Mayor Oleksandr Senkevych said more than 12 missile strikes on Sunday, probably the most powerful on the city in five months of war, hit homes and schools, with two people confirmed killed and three wounded. Missile strikes continued into Sunday evening.
Ukrainian grain tycoon Oleksiy Vadatursky, founder and owner of agriculture company Nibulon, and his wife were killed in their home, Mykolaiv Governor Vitaliy Kim said on Telegram.
Headquartered in Mykolaiv, a strategically important city that borders the mostly Russian-occupied Kherson region, Nibulon specialises in the production and export of wheat, barley and corn, and has its own fleet and shipyard.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy described Vadatursky's death as “a great loss for all of Ukraine”.
Zelenskiy added that the businessman — one of Ukraine's richest with Forbes estimating his 2021 net worth at $430 million — had been building a modern grain market with a network of terminals and elevators.
“It is these people, these companies, precisely the south of Ukraine, which has guaranteed the world's food security,” Zelenskiy said in his nightly address. “This was always so. And it will be so once again.”
Zelenskiy said Ukraine may harvest only half its usual amount this year due to disruption to farming from the biggest conflict in Europe since World War Two. Farmers have reported trying to harvest in between Russian shelling of their fields.
After failing to quickly capture the capital, Kyiv, early in the war, Russia has turned its focus towards Ukraine's east and south.
Zelenskiy said Russia had been transferring some forces from the eastern Donbas region to the southern Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions.
“As briefed by the Ukrainian authorities last week, Russia is likely reallocating a significant number of its forces from the northern Donbas sector to southern Ukraine,” the British Ministry of Defence said in an intelligence update.
It said Russia was probably adjusting the operational design of its Donbas offensive and had likely identified its Zaporizhzhia front as vulnerable and in need of reinforcement.
Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and Ukraine says Russia is seeking to do the same with the Donbas region and link it to Crimea. Russian-backed separatist controlled parts of the region before the invasion.