Three more ships loaded with Ukrainian grain left the country’s Black Sea ports Friday, the latest shipments in a deal brokered by Turkey and the United Nations to ease a growing food crisis.
The ships carrying more than 58,000 tons of corn are traveling to Ireland, the United Kingdom and Turkey, the United Nations said in a statement. The vessels are among more than a dozen that have been stuck in Ukraine since Russia invaded in February and are carrying a fraction of the 20 million tons of grain remaining in the country.
A fourth ship was inspected by officials from Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations in Istanbul and is headed for Ukraine, officials added.
The export deal got underway this week when the first vessel was cleared to sail to Lebanon. Experts say much of Ukraine’s grain exports are used for animal feed, not human consumption and the cargo may not have a significant impact on the global price of corn, wheat and soybeans.
“The movement of three additional vessels overnight is a very positive sign and will continue to build confidence that we’re moving in the right direction,” said Jonathan Haines, senior analyst at data and analytics firm Gro Intelligence. “If the flow of grain from Ukraine continues to expand, it will help relieve global supply constraints.”
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►Ukraine’s presidential office on Friday said at least eight people were killed and 16 others injured in the latest Russian shelling across the eastern Donetsk region, which, for weeks, has faced the most intensive Russian barrage. “Shellings and bombings are going round the clock, and people who refuse to evacuate risk being killed on their pillows,” Donetsk Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said in televised remarks.
►Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin met for four hours Friday for talks focusing on a grain deal brokered by Turkey and the U.N. and the growing economic ties between Moscow and Ankara, among other things. They emphasized “the necessity of a complete fulfillment of the package deal reached in Istanbul … including unhindered export of Russian grain and fertilizers” in a joint statement.
►Russian forces shelled Nikopol, a Ukrainian city close to Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant on Thursday, reinforcing warnings from the U.N. nuclear chief that the fighting around the site could lead to a disastrous accident. The plant has been under Russian supervision since Moscow’s troops seized it early in the war.
Biden says he’s ‘hopeful’ for Brittney Griner prisoner swap with Russia
President Joe Biden said Friday he remains hopeful for a prisoner swap a day after WNBA star Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison by a Russian judge for drug possession.
“I’m hopeful. We’re working hard,” Biden said when asked to comment on Griner.
Griner, a two-time United States Olympic gold medalist, was arrested Feb. 17 at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport after Russian authorities said she carried vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage.
Over the past several weeks, Biden has faced pressure to try and get Griner back to the U.S. She sent Biden a handwritten letter, which was delivered on the Fourth of July. The president later responded with his own letter.
Last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to accept a deal to free Griner and Paul Whelan, an American jailed in Russia on espionage charges. The Kremlin said Friday that it would be open to talking about a prisoner swap through a dedicated Russia-U.S. channel and not in public.
– Rebecca Morin, USA TODAY
A VISUAL EXPLANATION:Mapping and tracking Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
Amnesty International says Ukraine endangered civilians
Ukrainian forces have violated international law by establishing bases and operating weapons systems in populated residential areas, turning civilian areas into military targets, Amnesty International said in a report Thursday.
Researchers for the human rights organization found evidence that Ukrainian forces based themselves in buildings like schools and hospitals in 19 towns and villages, exposing populated areas to Russian strikes that killed civilians and destroyed infrastructure.
However, in cities including Kharkiv, Amnesty International found Russia had unlawfully targeted civilian areas and had committed war crimes. Ukraine’s use of civilian areas as military bases “does not in any way justify” Russia’s use of indiscriminate weapons like internationally banned cluster munitions, the organization said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday said the report tries to “shift the responsibility” of civilian deaths in Ukraine away from Russia in his nightly address CNN reported.
Russian state and pro-Kremlin media extensively quoted the report, which to a certain extent aligns with Moscow’s official narrative.
“We’re talking about it all the time, calling the actions of Ukraine’s armed forces the tactics of using the civilian population as a ‘human shield,’” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Telegram.
Contributing: The Associated Press