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For the 1st time since Russia invaded, ships are set to depart Ukraine with grain

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

All right, let's head overseas. Ukraine says ships loaded with grain could set sail at any time. The country is reopening ports that have been closed since Russia invaded Ukraine more than five months ago. The reopening is part of deals brokered by the United Nations and Turkey to address a global food shortage. NPR's Joanna Kakissis reports from the port where the first ships are expected to depart.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: The low-key port city of Chornomorsk found itself in the spotlight today when President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and an entourage of politicians showed up to watch a ship being loaded with grain.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Through interpreter) As soon as they give us the signal, everything will happen. We hope that everyone keeps their promises and guarantees. We hope that both the people and the vessels will be safe.

KAKISSIS: The largest Black Sea port, Odesa, which is a short drive from Chornomorsk, was hit by two Russian missiles almost a week ago. Natalia Seruchenko (ph), who runs a news website about Chornomorsk, says residents are now especially on edge about safety.

NATALIA SERUCHENKO: (Non-English language spoken).

KAKISSIS: "We feel like we are a target at any time and at any place in our city," she says. "That's why you really need the security guarantees from our Western partners."

Dmytro Barinov, deputy head of the Ukrainian Sea Port Authority, says the cities along the Black Sea have updated evacuation plans to make sure port employees and citizens are safe. He adds that commercial vessels must also navigate Black Sea waters that have been mined by Ukraine to keep away Russian warships. But Barinov says he's optimistic this grain export deal will work.

DMYTRO BARINOV: I think that our partners will find the solution - how to guarantee to the vessels safe passage to and out of our ports.

KAKISSIS: And he doesn't just mean defending Ukraine from Russia. He says the dozens of ships waiting in ports to export Ukrainian grain will help save his country's economy - one that's been crushed by Russia's invasion.

Joanna Kakissis, NPR News, Chornomorsk, Ukraine. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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