A Russian and Ukrainian team has completed an inspection of the first shipment of grain from Ukraine since the Kremlin's invasion five months ago helped spark a global food crisis.

The shipment now makes its way to Lebanon.

The checks aboard the Sierra Leone-flagged Razoni in Istanbul were being watched closely for signs of how well the first agreement signed by Moscow and Kyiv since Russia invaded its pro-Western neighbour can hold.

A deal brokered by Turkey and the United Nations last month lifted a Russian naval blockade of Ukraine's Black Sea cities and set terms for millions of tonnes of wheat and other grain to start flowing from Ukraine's filled silos and ports.

Ukraine exports roughly half of the sunflower oil used on the world market and is one of the world's main supplies of grain.

An almost complete halt to its exports helped push up global food prices and make imports prohibitively expensive in some of the poorest countries in the world.

The Razoni is due to deliver more than 26,000 tonnes of maize to Lebanon, which imports more than 80% of its wheat from Ukraine and Russia.

The ship sailed through a specially designated corridor in the mine-infested waters of the Black Sea before reaching the northern edge of the Bosphorus Strait yesterday.

A team of 20 inspectors from the two warring parties and the UN and Turkey strapped on orange helmets and boarded the ship early this morning for a check that officials said lasted less than 90 minutes.

The 186m long vessel sailed down the Bosphorus Strait in the heart of Istanbul before moving on to the Marmara and Aegean seas.

The UN secretary general's spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said he hoped for "more outbound movement" from Ukraine today.

Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky dismissed the importance of the first grain export shipment from his country since Russia invaded, and said it was carrying a fraction of the crop Kyiv must sell to help salvage its shattered economy.

He made the remarks while speaking to students in Australia by video link via an interpreter.

"Just recently, thanks to the UN in partnership with Turkey, we had a first ship with the delivery of grain, but it's still nothing. But we hope it’s a tendency that will continue," he told the students.

He said Ukraine had to export a minimum ten million tonnes of grain to urgently help bring down its budget deficit which was running at more than €5 billion a month.

He added that Russia's blocking of the ports since the start of the invasion is a great loss for the economy of Ukraine.

"The war ... is almost killing the economy. It's in a coma," he said.

The Razoni was inspected this morning

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed the first grain shipment but also said it was "only a first step."

A senior Turkish official said three ships could leave Ukrainian ports daily after the Razoni's departure, while Ukraine's infrastructure minister said 17 more ships had been loaded with agricultural produce and were waiting to set sail.

Kyiv said at least 16 more grain ships are waiting to depart and has also accused Russia of stealing Ukrainian grain in territories seized by Kremlin forces and then shipping it to allied countries such as Syria.

But Turkish hopes that the grain deal could help build trust and lead to ceasefire talks have so far proved futile.

Known as Europe's breadbasket, Ukraine hopes to export 20 million tonnes of grain held in silos and 40 million tonnes from the harvest now under way, initially from Odesa and nearby Pivdennyi and Chornomorsk.

Russia has said it wants to see more done to facilitate the exports of its own grain and fertilisers, but hailed the departure of the first grain ship from Ukraine as positive.

It has denied responsibility for the food crisis, saying sanctions by the West, which regards the war as an unprovoked imperial-style Russian land grab, have slowed its exports.

Russia continues assault on Ukrainian towns

Meanwhile, Russia has continued to pound southern Ukrainian cities near the Black Sea with missiles and pressed on with its grinding ground assault across the east.

Moscow said it had destroyed another foreign arms deport in western Ukraine - a region the furthest removed from the fighting.

Kyiv has launched mandatory evacuations from the eastern Donetsk region - now bearing the brunt of Russia's offensive - because the government does not expect to be able to provide it with heat in the cold winter months.

Mr Zelensky urged the estimated 200,000 remaining residents of the Donetsk region to leave.

Kyiv's forces have been pressing a counter-offensive to drive out the Russians from the southern Kherson region near the Kremlin-annexed Crimea peninsula.

The Ukrainian presidency said it had "liberated" seven more villages in the region while 53 remained under Russian control.

Ukrainian troops fire a US-made M777 howitzer on the frontline in Kharkiv

Ukraine has been bolstered by more supplies of Western weapons - particularly long-range rockets - ahead of the planned push to retake Kherson city.

The United States announced a new tranche of weapons worth $550 million for Ukraine's forces.

These include longer-range ammunition for increasingly important HIMARS rocket launchers and artillery pieces.

Ukraine is using the HIMARS and similar Western weapons to smash Russian arms depots and break down its lines of ground communication across the east.

The Russians have been unable to seize any major village or city since gaining full control of the Luhansk region in early July.


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