Kyiv expects the first grain deliveries under a Turkish and U.N.-mediated deal to leave Ukrainian ports "this week," Ukraine's infrastructure minister said Monday, despite Russian strikes on Ukraine's Black Sea port of Odessa.
"We expect the agreement to start working in the coming days," Oleksandr Kubrakov, who led Ukraine's delegation at grain talks in Turkey, told a press conference.
"We are preparing for everything to start this week," he added.
Kubrakov also highlighted the importance of security following a strike on the port of Odessa, one of the three export hubs designated in the agreement.
"Our position is very simple. We signed an agreement with the U.N. and Turkey. If the sides guarantee security, the agreement will work. If they do not, it will not work," Kubrakov said.
Russia and Ukraine signed agreements on Black Sea grain exports in Istanbul on Friday, with Turkey and the U.N. as co-guarantors.
Both countries are major exporters of agricultural products, but Moscow's invasion has severely disrupted Ukrainian wheat exports as the fighting damaged harvests and left ports blocked and mined.
Kubrakov added that de-mining will take place "exclusively" in the shipping lanes required for grain exports, while Ukrainian ships will accompany the departing convoys that will transport not only grain but also fertilizer.
Deputy Infrastructure Minister Yuri Vaskov told the press conference that the southeastern port of Chornomorsk will be "the first" used for grain deliveries, followed by the port of Odessa in the south and then Pivdennyi in the southeast.
"In the next two weeks, we will be technically ready to carry out grain exports from all Ukrainian ports," Vaskov added.
The Kremlin insisted Monday that the attack on the port of Odessa over the weekend targeted military assets and would not affect grain shipping.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the strike had to do “exclusively with the military infrastructure.”
“This is in no way related to the infrastructure involved in fulfilling the agreements and exporting grain. So this can’t and shouldn’t affect the start of the shipment process in any way,” Peskov said.
Wheat prices rose sharply on Monday following the strike on the port.
Wheat futures on the Chicago Board of Trade rose nearly 4% to $7.86 a bushel on Monday, regaining much of the ground lost on Friday as prices fell nearly 6% after the pact was announced.
"A restart of Ukrainian exports will not only need a safe shipping channel, but also safe ports. The Russians have created doubt about the safety of ports hardly before the ink was dry on the shipping agreement. Doubt is there again," one European trader said.
"Along with the uncertainty about how long it will take to clear the mines, ship owners will simply not sail to Ukraine, no matter what the freight rate is, if they think their ship will be hit by missiles," another European grain trader said.
"Ukraine needs high-volume ocean ship exports to clear its storage for the new crop; the land and river exports to east Europe are not enough."