Grain ship to dock in Ukraine, leave for Africa

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KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Expectations were raised Friday that the first U.N. grain transport ship could soon be leaving Ukraine for Africa, while more Russian shelling struck the east of the country — shifting the war between hope and despair on Friday.

Closing in on the half-year mark, the war has sent food prices sky-high and left poorer countries with ever less hope they would be getting supplies from the breadbasket of Europe. On Friday, European Council President Charles Michel announced though that the first World Food Program transport for Africa was poised to depart.

He said the ship would load in a Ukrainian port and depart for Ethiopia, saying “cooperation of all involved actors is key” to avoid food shortage and hunger around the world. Such a move would be a big step in the food crisis caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.

The ship, Brave Commander, would take more than 23,000 metric tons (27,500 short tons) of grain and export it to Ethiopia through Djibouti.

While Ukrainian and Western officials have repeatedly spoken of the crucial role of grain shipments from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports in staving off a global food crisis, many of the first dozen vessels to leave the ports were bound for destinations in Turkey and Western Europe. Some analysts attributed this to the need to free up scarce docking space, saying that ships which have been trapped in the ports the longest were likely prioritized.

Ethiopia, along with neighboring Somalia and Kenya, is in the grip of the driest drought in four decades in the Horn of Africa. Thousands of people across the region have died from hunger or illness this year. Forecasts for the coming weeks indicate that for the first time, a fifth straight rainy season will fail to materalize. Millions of livestock, the basis of many families’ wealth and food security, have died.

It makes any resumption of food shipments all the more welcome.

If such news provided a rare glimmer of hope from the gloomiest of surroundings, it was offset by the incessant fighting in eastern Ukraine, where the war entered its 170th day. Specifically the Donbas town of Kramatorsk was hit by 11 rockets overnight. Seven people were killed and 14 others were wounded in the region, which remains cut off from gas, running water and electricity.

“Three quarters of the population of the region have already been evacuated, because incessant shelling by the Russian army doesn’t leave civilians any choice — it’s either to die from wounds, or from hunger and cold in winter,” Donetsk regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko told Ukrainian television.

The world also continued to worry about the threat of a nuclear disaster in eastern Ukraine where shelling has hit the area, which is home to Europe’s largest nuclear plant.

Shelling near the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia facility continued overnight. Russian forces fired more than 40 rockets at the city of Marhanets, which is across the Dnieper river from the power plant. Three people were wounded in the most recent shelling, including a 12-year-old boy. The neighboring city of Nikopol was shelled as well, said Valentyn Reznichenko, the governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region.

The U.N. nuclear chief warned late Thursday that “very alarming” military activity at the nuclear plant could lead to dangerous consequences.

International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Rafael Grossi urged Russia and Ukraine, who blame each other for the attacks at the plant, to immediately allow nuclear experts to assess damage and evaluate safety and security at the sprawling nuclear complex where the situation “has been deteriorating very rapidly.”

He pointed to shelling and several explosions at Zaporizhzhia last Friday that forced the shutdown of the electrical power transformer and two backup transformers, forcing the shutdown of one nuclear reactor.

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