Ukraine’s First U.N. Grain Ship Prepares to Depart for Africa

PIVDENNYI PORT, Ukraine — Sailors in blue and orange coveralls milled around on the deck of the freighter Brave Commander on Sunday as a series of chutes and conveyors loaded the ship’s cargo bay with 23,000 metric tons of wheat bound for Africa.

The Brave Commander, a Lebanese-flagged freighter, was scheduled to depart later in the day from Pivdennyi, one of Ukraine’s largest ports on the Black Sea, near Odesa. It is the first ship specially chartered by the World Food Program as part of an effort to direct much-needed grain to countries affected most by food shortages caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

This shipment will eventually make its way to Ethiopia, which is on “the edge of famine,” according to Marianne Ward of the World Food Program, a United Nations agency.

“This food will make a huge difference for them,” she said. “The big message for us is the world needs the food of Ukraine.”

Last year, Ukrainian grain is estimated to have fed 400 million people, according to Ms. Ward, and the absence of shipments from Ukrainian ports blockaded by Russian warships in the Black Sea has had profound repercussions around the globe. Prices have soared and tens of millions of people, mostly in the Middle East and Africa, have been put at risk of famine.

At least five countries are now experiencing famine-like conditions and another 20 are on the “watch list for famine,” said Denise Brown, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Ukraine.

Pivdennyi Port is the last of the Odesa region’s three main ports to come online following months of hiatus since the start of the war on Feb. 24. On Aug. 1, the first ship loaded with Ukrainian harvest departed the Port of Odesa, following an agreement brokered by the United Nations and Turkey to allow the export of roughly 20 million tons of grain that had been stuck in Ukrainian silos since the beginning of the war.

Since then, at least eight ships have successfully traversed the mined waters of the Black Sea to deliver grain to Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

Aboard the Brave Commander, which arrived in Ukraine from Istanbul last week, crew members were busy readying the ship to sail as a large chute pumped golden wheat into the cargo hold. The sailors said they had no concerns about safety, although they had expected to encounter more trouble when their ship docked in Ukraine.

“We were surprised because you have war in Ukraine,” said a crew member from Syria who gave his name only as Mohammad. “But it wasn’t difficult.”

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