During a visit to the port city of Odessa, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced that grain exports by ship across the Black Sea would soon begin. “I think it starts today or tomorrow,” the 44-year-old said in a video message published on his Telegram channel on Friday.

It will be the first grain ship since Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine began in February. “The most important thing for us is that the port and the people work,” said the head of state.

The video showed the ship “Polarnet” under the Turkish flag being loaded in the port of Chornomorsk near Odessa. The grain is from a Ukrainian company.

The Ministry of Infrastructure is now waiting for a signal from the United Nations and Turkey for the start. “It is important for us that Ukraine remains a guarantor of world food safety,” emphasized Zelenskyy.

According to the deputy head of the presidential administration Kyrylo Tymoshenko, a total of 16 ships are currently being loaded with grain in the ports of Odessa. The total payload is 580,000 tons. “They will soon be leaving for their destinations,” said Tymoshenko.

Ukraine is one of the world’s largest grain exporters. However, after the war began, Russia had blocked Ukrainian seaports. Ukraine also mined its coast to protect against Russian landings.

World market prices rose due to a lack of grain deliveries; the UN increasingly fears hunger crises. According to information from Kyiv, more than 20 million tons of last year’s harvest were stuck due to the Russian sea blockade. Russia has denied responsibility for the rise in food prices, blaming the West.

Mediated by the UN and Turkey, the two warring parties signed an agreement in Istanbul a week ago to release grain exports. A joint coordination center of the United Nations, Turkey, Ukraine and Russia in Istanbul is to ensure the safe handling of shipping traffic.