KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Four more ships carrying agricultural cargo held up by Ukraine’s war was given permission on Sunday to leave the Black Sea coast as analysts warned that Russia was moving troops and equipment towards the ports to prevent a Ukrainian counterattack.
The body overseeing an international deal meant to take some 20 million tons of grain out of Ukraine and feed millions of poor, starving people in Africathe Middle East and parts of Asia said the laden ships were expected to leave Chornomorsk and Odessa on Monday.
Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations signed agreements last month to create a sea channel that will allow cargo ships to travel safely from ports blockaded by the Russian military and through waters mined by the military of Ukraine. Implementation of the agreement, which is valid for four months, has been progressing slowly since the first ship boarded last Monday.
In the last four months of the war, Russia has focused on capturing the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, where pro-Moscow separatists have controlled some territory as self-proclaimed democracies for eight years. Russian forces have made incremental advances in the area bordering Russia while launching rocket and missile attacks to restrict the movement of Ukrainian fighters elsewhere.
Last day, five civilians were killed in Russian and separatist shelling of towns in the Donetsk region, the part of Donbass still under Ukrainian control, the regional governor, Serhi Haidai, said. He and Ukrainian government officials have repeatedly urged civilians to leave the province.
In a weekend analysis, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said the Russian invasion that began on February 24 “is set to enter a new phase” in which the shift in fighting will shift west and south along a front line of about 350 kilometers (217 miles ). it stretches from near the city of Zaporizhzhia to Russian-occupied Kherson.
Kherson, located on the Dnieper River near its mouth with the Black Sea, came under Russian control early in the war, and Ukrainian officials have vowed to retake it. Kherson is 227 kilometers (141 miles) from Odessa, home to Ukraine’s largest port, so the escalating conflict there could have implications for the international grain deal.
The city of Mykolaiv, a major shipbuilding center that receives daily missiles from Russian forces, is even closer to Odessa. Mykolayiv Oblast Governor Vitaly Kim said an industrial facility on the outskirts of the regional capital came under fire early Sunday.
On Saturday, Russian forces launched airstrikes, fired artillery and redistributed other weapons as part of efforts to defend their positions in the occupied territories, according to the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank.
Citing local Ukrainian officials, the institute said the Russians “continue to accumulate large amounts of military equipment” in a town across the Dnieper River from Kherson. The preparations appeared designed to defend logistics routes into the city and establish defensive positions on the left bank of the river, the think tank said.
Ukrainian officials were initially wary of a grain export deal, citing suspicions that Moscow would try to exploit shipping activity to mass troops offshore or send long-range missiles from the Black Sea, as it has done many times during the war. The agreements approved last month require ships to leave Ukraine under military escort and undergo inspections.
Under the agreements, ships leaving Ukraine are inspected by teams made up of officials from the three countries and the UN to make sure they are carrying only grain, fertilizer or food and no other goods. Incoming ships are screened to ensure they are not carrying weapons.
The Joint Coordination Center, which is responsible for managing the deal, said three cargo ships that departed on Friday were expected to pass through Turkey’s Bosphorus strait on Sunday after clearance inspections.. The Panamanian-flagged Navi Star, which is carrying 33,000 tonnes of grain to Ireland, has completed its inspection and was preparing to depart.
The Turkish-flagged Polarnet, bound for Turkey, and the Maltese-flagged Rojen, bound for the United Kingdom, were waiting to be inspected. The ships carried between them over 25,000 tons of corn, waiting to be inspected. T
The Joint Coordination Center said three of the carriers allowed to leave Ukraine on Monday – Glory, Star Helena and Riva Wind, all flagged in the Marshall Islands – carried more than 171,000 tonnes of corn combined. Glory is bound for Istanbul, Star Helena for Nantong in China and Riva Wind for Turkey’s Mediterranean port of Iskenderun.
The fourth ship to depart, the Liberian-flagged tanker Mustafa Necati is carrying more than 6,600 tons of sunflower oil to Monopoli, Italy.
The center also approved the first incoming ship under the deal, saying the Liberian-flagged Osprey S will head to the Ukrainian port of Chornomorsk on Monday. Marine traffic monitoring sites showed the ship north of the Black Sea at the entrance to the Bosphorus, where ships were waiting for inspection teams to board.
Andrew Wilks contributed reporting from Istanbul.
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