Laden with 26,000 tons of corn, the Razoni, a cargo ship registered in Sierra Leone, set sail from the Ukrainian port of Odessa on August 1st. The transit, Ukraine’s first maritime export since Russia invaded in February, was made possible by a deal the two countries reached in July. “I understand what war is,” the ship’s Syrian captain, Mohammad Abdoh, told Ukrainian officials a few days earlier, “and I am ready to go.” The Razoni is headed to Lebanon. At least 10 other ships, among the dozens trapped in Ukrainian ports since the start of the war, are loaded and ready to follow.
But concerns remain. On July 23 — only one day after António Guterres, the UN’s secretary-general, and Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had brokered the deal to allow the resumption of Ukrainian grain exports — Russia bombed the port in Odessa. Days later a Russian missile killed Oleksiy Vadaturskyi, the head of one of Ukraine’s biggest grain exporters, and his wife, in Mykolaiv, another port city. An adviser to Volodymyr Zelensky, the country’s president, said Vadaturskyi had been deliberately targeted.
Under the export scheme, cargo ships sailing to and from Ukraine will pass through a safe corridor in the Black Sea. The process will be administered by a “Joint Coordination Center” (JCC) in Istanbul, staffed by representatives from Ukraine and Russia as well as Turkey and the UN. They will oversee the transit routes and inspect ships headed to Odessa to make sure they are not carrying any weapons.