A merchant ship departed from the Ukrainian port of Odesa Wednesday, despite threats of Russia targeting vessels in the Black Sea.
The cargo ship, the Hong-Kong flagged “Joseph Schulte,” co-owned by a German company and an unnamed Chinese bank, had been stuck in the port since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. It’s reportedly carrying 30,000 tons of grain and other foodstuffs.
Last week, Ukraine announced a “humanitarian corridor” in the Black Sea to allow the release of such trapped cargo ships, though Russia has been known to defy declared safe passages throughout the nearly 18-month-long war, and Moscow has said it will not respect the Black Sea corridor, either.
Oleksandr Kubrakov, Ukraine’s infrastructure minister, said that despite Russian threats, the “Joseph Schulte” was making its way through an established civilian vessel corridor.
According to Kyiv officials, the Hong-Kong flagged ship left Odesa as Russian air strikes attacked the port of Reni on the Danube River and bordering Moldova and Romania.
On Tuesday night, an Odesa port was also hit by a drone, destroying grain supplies, in the latest in a series attacks since mid-July after Russia dissolved the 2022 United Nations-backed Black Sea Grain Initiative that allowed Ukraine to export grain and other food supplies to countries struggling with food insecurity in countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
Russian officials have said their actions are in “retribution” for a deadly explosion on the Kerch Bridge, the only direct access way from the annexed Crimean peninsula to the Russian mainland. Ukrainian forces have claimed responsibility for that attack.
Ukraine supplies 10% of the world wheat market, 15% of the corn market, and 13% of the barley market, but as a result of Russia’s targeting of the ports, Ukraine grain exports in July fell 40% from the previous month, driving up food prices around the world. Global food prices ticked up 1.3% in July, and the United Nations’ World Food Program has said it had to cut back on food aid to refugees in the Middle East.
Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Russia of “using food as a weapon,” and called on Russia to adhere to international appeals to stop what U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield called its “full-scale assault on the world’s bread basket.”