Ukrainian Zelenskiy says first grain ship ‘nothing’, economy in coma


  • Grain transport vessel from Ukraine inspected in Turkey
  • Shipment is first of its kind to leave Ukraine in wartime
  • But Ukrainian leader says much more is needed
  • Kiev urgently needs to ship 10 million tons to reduce the deficit

KYIV/ISTANBUL, Aug. 3 (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskiy dismissed the importance of his country’s first grain export shipment since Russia invaded, saying it was carrying a fraction of the crop Kiev must sell to help save its shattered economy .

His somber comments, via video to students in Australia on Wednesday, came as an inspection of the ship was completed in Turkey before proceeding to its final destination in Lebanon under a deal aimed at alleviating a global food crisis. read more

The ship, Razoni, departed early Monday from the Ukrainian port of Odessa on the Black Sea carrying 26,527 tons of corn for Tripoli in Lebanon. It followed last month a UN-brokered grain and fertilizer export deal between Moscow and Kiev — a rare diplomatic breakthrough in a protracted war of attrition.

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But Zelenskiy, speaking through an interpreter, said more time was needed to see if other grain shipments would follow.

“Recently, thanks to the UN in cooperation with Turkey, we had a first ship with the delivery of grain, but it is still nothing. But we hope it is a trend that will continue,” he told the students.

He said Ukraine needed to export at least 10 million tons of grain to urgently help reduce its budget deficit, which rose to $5 billion a month.

A senior Turkish official said three ships were able to leave Ukrainian ports daily after the Razoni’s departure, while Ukraine’s infrastructure minister said 17 more ships were loaded with agricultural products and waiting to set sail.

Known as the breadbasket of Europe, Ukraine hopes to export 20 million tons of grain in silos and 40 million tons of the harvest now underway, initially from Odessa and nearby Pivdennyi and Chornomorsk.

“The war… almost kills the economy. It’s in a coma,” Zelenskiy added. “The blocking of ports by Russia is a major loss to the economy.

Zelenskiy has repeatedly warned that Moscow may try to hinder exports, despite signing the deal last month.

‘DONBAS HELL’

Russia, which blocked Ukraine’s ports after embarking on what it called a “special military operation” on Feb. 24, has said it wants to see more to facilitate exports of its own grain and fertilizers. But it has praised the departure of the first grain ship from Ukraine as positive.

It has denied responsibility for the food crisis, saying sanctions from the West, which sees the war as an unprovoked Imperial-style Russian land grab, have slowed exports.

Exports from Ukraine, one of the world’s largest grain producers, aim to reduce price hikes and shortages, while famines threaten in some parts of the world.

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, a friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said the grain deal could provide a way out of the conflict.

“The good news is that the Kremlin wants a negotiated solution,” Schroeder told Stern and RTL/ntv broadcasters on Wednesday, adding that he met Putin in Moscow last week.

“A first success is the grain deal, perhaps that can be slowly extended to a ceasefire.” read more

Ukraine’s General Staff on Wednesday cataloged continued heavy Russian shelling on Kharkiv and other towns and villages in the area, as well as air and missile strikes on civilian objects. Moscow denies deliberately targeting civilians, accusing Kiev.

The Russian Defense Ministry said its missiles had destroyed a depot of Polish-supplied weapons in Ukraine’s Lviv region.

Reuters could not verify the battlefield reports.

Zelenskiy said in a late night speech on Tuesday that his forces have not yet been able to overcome Russia’s advantages in heavy weapons and manpower, despite arms deliveries from the West.

“This is very much felt in fights, especially in the Donbas … It’s just hell there. Words can’t describe it,” he said.

Russia is fighting for complete control of Donbas, the heavily industrialized part of eastern Ukraine.

It said Tuesday at the United Nations that the conflict did not justify Moscow’s use of nuclear weapons, but that it could decide to use its nuclear arsenal in response to “direct aggression” by NATO military alliance countries. read more

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Reporting by Reuters agencies; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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