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Cargo ship exits Ukraine port despite threat from Russian navy

Published August 16, 2023
The first cargo ship using new Black Sea shipping lanes is seen leaving the southern port of Odesa on August 16, 2023. Photo: AFP
The first cargo ship using new Black Sea shipping lanes is seen leaving the southern port of Odesa on August 16, 2023. Photo: AFP

KYIV: Kyiv said Wednesday that a civilian cargo vessel had exited its southern port of Odesa despite warnings from Russia that its navy could target any ships using Ukraine’s Black Sea export hubs.

The announcement, which raises the spectre of a standoff with Russian warships, came hours after Ukraine said it had liberated a village as part of a grinding push to wrest Moscow’s forces along the southern front.

Russia issued its maritime threat after scuppering a key deal last month – brokered by the UN and Turkey – that guaranteed safe passage for grain shipments from three Ukrainian ports.

Ukraine’s Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said the Hong Kong-flagged Joseph Schulte left Wednesday morning from the port of Odesa – one of three that participated in the now-scrapped grain export deal.

“The first vessel is moving along the temporary corridors established for civilian vessels to and from Black Sea ports,” he said in a statement.

The Joseph Schulte was hugging the Ukrainian coast and moving in the direction of Vylkove in southern Ukraine, a Maritime tracking website showed as of 2:20pm local time (1120 GMT).

Since Russia’s exit from the accord in July, it has stepped up attacks on Ukraine’s Black Sea port infrastructure and facilities Kyiv uses to export grain through the Danube river.

Drones batter Odesa port

The governor of the Odesa region said Wednesday that Russian attack drones had damaged grain facilities at a river port near the Romanian border.

The airforce meanwhile said it had downed 13 Russian drones over Odesa and the neighbouring Mykolaiv region.

The incident sparked an outcry in EU-member Romania – now a key hub for Ukrainian grain exports abroad since the collapse of the exports deal.

“I strongly condemn the continued (Russian) attacks on innocent people, civilian infrastructure, including grain silos in the ports of Reni and Izmail,” Foreign Minister Luminita Odobescu said.

The possibility of a Russian attack on cargo ships in the Black Sea increased after Moscow said it fired warning shots from a warship at a cargo vessel heading towards Izmail last week.

The Joseph Schulte left Odesa hours after Kyiv announced the capture of Urozhaine, a small hamlet in the industrial east.

“Our defenders are entrenched at the outskirts. The offensive continues,” Deputy Defence Minister Ganna Malyar said on social media.

Kyiv launched its long anticipated counteroffensive in June, but has acknowledged tough battles as it struggles to break through heavily fortified Russian positions.

Ukraine pushes on southern front

Malyar’s announcement comes a day after Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu said Ukraine’s military resources were “almost exhausted”, despite receiving Western arms deliveries.

Moscow, which often downplays Kyiv’s offensive capabilities, did not confirm the takeover and said its forces were continuing to engage Ukraine’s forces around the village.

The Donetsk region – which has faced the brunt of fighting in recent months – is one of four Ukrainian regions that the Kremlin claimed to have annexed last year.

Its governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said Wednesday that Russian attacks in the last 24 hours killed four people and wounded seven.

Urozhaine, with an estimated pre-war population of around 1,000 people, is among a cluster of villages that Ukrainian forces have been attempting to wrest over recent weeks.

Further east in the region, Ukrainian forces have also been fighting to push back Russian forces from the north and south of the war-battered town of Bakhmut.

The town was captured in May after a months-long battle but immediately Ukrainian forces began clawing back ground around its flanks.

But Russian forces have been pushing back in the northern Kharkiv region, spurring local authorities to urge vulnerable residents to evacuate.

Vira Vunesku, a 53-year-old evacuee told her relatives not to cry and assured them everything would be alright, as she readied to leave the frontline town of Kupiansk.

“I’m ill. And I have to get my grandson out. My condition is serious. I was in a hospital in Kharkiv, came back home for a bit, and now I have to leave again,” she told AFP.

Separately, Russia said its air defence systems had downed several drones overnight near Moscow, in the latest of a string of aerial attacks that have targeted Russia’s urban centres.

The army said three drones were shot down in the Kaluga region south of the capital. Regional officials said there was no damage or casualties.

The air attack is at least the fifth this month over the Kaluga region that Russia says it has thwarted.

In the western Russian region of Belgorod, the regional governor however said Wednesday that Ukrainian mortar fire had killed a man in the village of Novaya Tavolzhanka.


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