ODESA, Ukraine —President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, visiting a port in the Odesa region on Friday, expressed hope that grain exports could begin within the coming days, as U.S. and European ambassadors called on Russia to heed a deal to get the grain moving.
Mr. Zelensky said his visit to the Black Sea port of Chernomorsk, where the first shipment of grain since the beginning of the war was being loaded onto a Turkish freighter, was meant to convey that Ukraine’s ports were ready, the president’s press service said.
The visit came less than a week after Russian cruise missiles struck at the nearby Port of Odesa, threatening to upend a deal brokered by the United Nations and Turkey to allow Ukraine to begin exporting grain to countries hit hard by food shortages. Ukrainian ports have been sealed by a Russian naval blockade of the Black Sea since troops invaded the country on Feb. 24.
“Our side is fully ready,” Mr. Zelensky said. “We’ve given our partners, the U.N. and Turkey, the signal and our military will guarantee security.”
His visit followed a trip Friday to the Port of Odesa by ambassadors from the United States and Europe, who, together with Ukraine’s minister of infrastructure, Oleksandr Kurbakov, pressed Russia to abide by the deal and said it was possible that the shipments could get underway as early as Friday.
“Millions of people around the world are waiting for grain to come out of this and other Ukrainian ports,” said Bridget Brink, the American ambassador to Ukraine, who was making her first visit to Odesa. “It’s very important for Russia to live up to its commitments and to allow this grain to be exported.”
As she spoke, a large cargo ship expected to deliver grain — called the Navi-Star — sat moored at the port near a cluster of large silver grain silos, its crew, in orange overalls, busy on deck. The Turkish-owned bulk carrier has been stuck in the port since Feb. 19, days before the invasion began, according to the maritime website MarineTraffic, as one of a handful of vessels that did not manage to get out before the blockade.
The mechanics of transporting grain through the Black Sea with little trust between warring sides are extremely complex.
The operation has several moving parts, and the parties — Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations — were still working out important elements on Friday, a U.N. official said.
A joint coordination center that opened in Turkey on Wednesday is working to establish standard operating procedures, including monitoring and inspection and emergency response, said Ismini Palla, a U.N. official, adding that the teams were also still working out the safe routes and corridors for the inbound and outbound ships.
“Once all of those elements are in place, then we will start seeing the first movements,” Ms. Palla said. “The ultimate goal is to ensure the safe passage of commercial vessels.”
Ukraine is a leading exporter of wheat, barley, corn and sunflower, but its shipments plummeted after the war began, undermining a global food distribution network that was already strained by poor harvests, drought, pandemic-related disruptions and climate change. Exports from Russia, also a major supplier, fell as well. The United Nations has warned of potential famine and political unrest.
Western officials have accused President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia of using hunger as leverage for sanctions relief.
Under the terms of the deal, Ukrainian captains will steer the vessels with grain out of Odesa and neighboring Chernomorsk and Yuzhne through safe passages mapped by the Ukrainian Navy, to avoid the mines Ukraine has laid to thwart a feared Russian amphibious assault. Teams from Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations will jointly inspect the vessels in Turkish ports, primarily to ensure that they are not carrying weapons back to Ukraine.
— Michael Schwirtz and Matina Stevis-Gridneff