The first shipment of Ukrainian grain to the UK since the war began is expected to arrive in 10 days, western officials said.
Millions of tonnes of grain have been stuck in Ukraine since Russia invaded just over six months ago.
A UN-brokered agreement last month allowed the first Ukrainian shipment to be cleared for travel this week, with the Sierra Leone-flagged Razoni carrying corn and entering the Bosphorus Strait on the way to Lebanon on Wednesday.
Speaking about the newly re-established Ukrainian grain exports, a western official said the Malta-flagged Rojen is “due to arrive in the UK on August 14”.
.@antonioguterres warmly welcomes the departure of the M/V Razoni, the first commercial ship leaving Ukraine’s port of Odesa since 26 February 2022. Ensuring that existing grain and foodstuffs can move to global markets is a humanitarian imperative. 👇👇👇https://t.co/YxCjl7XSvk pic.twitter.com/oy65FURNn4
— UN Spokesperson (@UN_Spokesperson) August 1, 2022
“This will almost certainly be the first shipment from Ukraine to arrive in the UK since the end of February and the start of the invasion,” they said.
The bulk carrier is expected to travel from the Port of Chornomorsk in Ukraine, where it is thought to be berthed and loaded, to the UK, but the official could not say which UK port is expected to receive it.
However, according to the VesselFinder website, the ship is due to arrive in Teesport on August 17.
The cargo is “probably corn or grain”, the official said, adding: “What it does show is that there is – which perhaps people don’t realise – direct supply of agricultural produce to the UK from the Ukraine.”
Addressing the first shipment to leave Ukraine since the agreement, the official said: “It is almost certain the success of its transit will result in more frequent transits.”
“Clearing the backlog caused by the blockade that’s been in place since February will almost certainly remain a major logistical challenge,” they added.
But another western official, when asked about the shipment, said there is limited information available about when ships will be leaving Ukraine, and decisions are still be negotiated among the parties to the agreement.
“At some point soon they will agree which ships will leave and when. We don’t have those details yet,” they said.
A western official also played down fears over the state of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, located in the south-eastern Ukrainian city of Enerhodar, and currently held by Russia.
UN nuclear chief Rafael Grossi said on Wednesday that the Zaporizhzhia power plant “is completely out of control”, and he issued an urgent plea to Russia and Ukraine to quickly allow experts to visit the complex to stabilise the situation and avoid a nuclear accident.
“In terms of the safety security of that site at the moment, whilst it is degraded in terms of normal operating levels, it is still functioning and functioning effectively,” the western official said, adding: “These aren’t the ideal industrial circumstances, but nevertheless I think the circumstances are better than painted in the media.”
“Nuclear power plants are designed to withstand terrorist attacks, including aircraft hitting reactors etc, so please don’t think that we are looking at a Chernobyl-like situation. That’s not the case,” they added.
They said Russia may use the site as a “safe zone from which to carry out defensive operations”, but that, while Ukraine will “consider very carefully how to avoid taking major risks around the site”, it should not prevent a Ukrainian advance.
The official also cast doubt on Russia’s explanation of a deadly incident at a jail housing prisoners of war in the separatist region of eastern Ukraine.
Russia has claimed that Ukraine’s military used US-supplied rocket launchers to strike the prison in Olenivka, a settlement controlled by the Moscow-backed Donetsk People’s Republic.
“We assess it is not a high explosive attack from the outside, it’s not a Himars (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System),” the western official said, adding that that is “clear” from photographic evidence, citing as an example an image showing bunkbeds still standing which otherwise “would not be the case”.
They added: “We think it’s more likely some sort of incendiary, some sort of implosion.”
Addressing the wider outlook of the war, the official said the battle has “slowed down”, and they estimate that up to 20,000 Russian soldiers have been killed during the conflict.
They added: “We think that Russia has not given up on its maximalist objectives for Ukraine… militarily we question how they can achieve those objectives in the near term.
“But then what we need to understand better is Russia is prepared, I think, to operate over a much longer timeframe than we think in typically.”