Ukrainian ship carrying grain sails from Odessa, testing Russian threat

Ukrainian ship carrying grain sails from Odessa, testing Russian threat

KYIV — Officials here said a first ship carrying Ukrainian agricultural cargo set sail Wednesday from the southern port of Odessa — despite threats by Russia to forcibly stop vessels in the Black Sea after Moscow unilaterally terminated a U.N.-sponsored agreement allowing safe passage of Ukrainian grain shipments.

Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said the container ship Joseph Schulte, flying a Hong Kong flag, left the port “and is proceeding through a temporary corridor established for civilian vessels” on its way to the Bosporus.

Kubrakov, posting on Facebook, said the ship was “carrying more than 30,000 tons of cargo, including food products” and had been in the Odessa port since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion nearly 18 months ago.

The announcement came as Russian forces continued their ferocious barrage against Ukraine’s agricultural infrastructure, intent on destroying the country’s ability to ship to global markets and crippling a key sector of the country’s economy.

On Wednesday, the head of the Odessa regional administration, Oleh Kiper, said two waves of self-destructing drones damaged “warehouses and granaries” in a port on the Danube River, which Ukraine established as an alternative route to shipping from ports directly on the Black Sea.

“The main goal [of the attacks] is port and grain infrastructure in the south of the region,” Kiper wrote on Telegram.

Andriy Yermak, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s chief of staff, said the assault hit the Danube port of Reni, and he posted photos of destroyed storage facilities. There were no casualties, Yermak said.

Russia withdrew last month from the U.N.-brokered agreement to allow Ukrainian grain shipments safe passage, warning that it would consider all ships traveling in the Black Sea to be potentially carrying military cargo.

Kyiv responded with its own announcement that all ships traveling to Russian Black Sea ports also would be regarded as potentially transporting arms and other military equipment.

Last week, Ukraine’s navy announced on its Facebook page that “temporary corridors” had been established for “merchant vessels going to and from Ukrainian ports.”

“At the same time … there is a military threat and mine danger from the Russian Federation along all routes,” the statement said, without providing details about the location of the corridors or what, if any, protection the ships would receive.

On Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink said that Washington delivered 50 railroad grain wagons to the Ukrainian agriculture company Nibulon “to help move grain to Danube ports, where it will be sent to global markets.”

The Danube borders Ukraine to the west and feeds into the Black Sea. After Russia imposed a stranglehold on Ukraine’s southern ports early in the war, officials shifted some of their exports to ports on the river — a less-than-ideal alternative, as the shipments still must travel overland.

Ukraine’s military, meanwhile, said Wednesday that it had liberated the village of Urozhaine, a small settlement in the eastern Donetsk region.

Alexander Khodakovsky, the commander of the Moscow-aligned Vostok Battalion in Russian-occupied Donetsk, confirmed on Telegram that Ukrainian forces captured the village but claimed that they paid a high price in casualties.

“Not a single house was surrendered by us without a fight,” Khodakovsky wrote, adding that his troops did not wait for “promised reinforcements, which were supposed to arrive any day.”

The reports could not be independently confirmed, but if they are accurate, the recapture of Urozhaine would highlight the incremental pace of Ukraine’s counteroffensive. Urozhaine is adjacent to Staromaiorske, which Ukrainian troops retook at the end of July.

Oleksandr Syrsky, the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, visited positions near the eastern city of Kupyansk, where Russian forces have launched an offensive and there are reports of heavy fighting.

“The enemy is trying to break through the defenses of our troops every day, in different directions, with assault squads consisting mainly of prisoners, with the aim of blocking and later capturing Kupyansk,” Syrsky said, according to Ukraine’s Military Media Center.

Fighting around the eastern city of Bakhmut, which Russian forces recaptured this year after months of bitter combat, was “difficult, but under control,” Syrsky added.

On Wednesday, former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, now deputy chief of Russia’s security council, said the Kremlin should gain control of Kyiv, after a senior NATO official made controversial remarks that Ukraine could cede territory to Russia in exchange for membership in the alliance.

Stian Jenssen, the chief of staff to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, said during a panel discussion Tuesday in Norway that such a trade-off could be part of a solution to end the war, although he added that it was up to officials in Kyiv “to decide when and on what terms they want to negotiate.”

Medvedev called the idea “curious” and suggested that Ukraine would have to give up most of its territory, with the exception of western Ukraine.

“To enter the bloc, the Kyiv authorities will have to give up even Kyiv itself, the capital of Ancient Rus,” Medvedev said, referring to a political entity that existed about 1,000 years ago and covered portions of today’s Ukraine, Russia and Belarus. “They will have to move the capital to Lviv,” he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and other top officials claim that Rus was the predecessor to today’s Russia and have used it to justify their invasion of Ukraine and the illegal occupation of its territory.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak also rejected Jenssen’s remarks, calling the suggestion “ridiculous.”

“That means deliberately choosing the defeat of democracy, encouraging a global criminal, preserving the Russian regime, destroying international law, and passing the war on to other generations,” Podolyak wrote on social media.

On Wednesday, Jenssen clarified that what he said was “a mistake” and that he “shouldn’t have said it that way.”

“If, and I emphasize if, you get to the point where you can negotiate,” Jenssen said, the military situation on the ground “will be absolutely central.” He did not mention the possibility of Ukraine’s joining NATO, however.

Emily Rauhala in Brussels, Robyn Dixon in Riga, Latvia, and Francesca Ebel in Tunis contributed to this report.

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