KYIV, Aug 2 - Ukraine has recaptured 53 settlements in the mostly Russian-occupied southern region of Kherson since the start of Moscow's invasion, Reuters reported Tuesday citing the regional governor.
"As of now, 53 settlements have been confirmed as liberated," acting governor Dmytro Butriy said on national television.
That figure was nine settlements more than the number he gave on Monday, which appeared to indicate a quickening tempo of Ukrainian gains in the region.
Russia captured swathes of southern Ukraine in the first phase of its Feb. 24 invasion. Ukraine is now pledging to conduct a major counter-offensive to retake land and has used Western-made long-range weapons to hit Russian supply lines.
Meanwhile, the first cargo ship loaded with grain to leave Ukraine since Russia invaded more than five months ago safely crossed the Black Sea and anchored just outside Istanbul on Tuesday en route to Lebanon, under an agreement Moscow and Kyiv signed last month to unblock Ukraine’s agricultural exports and ease a global food crisis.
An estimated 20 million tons of grain have been stuck in Ukraine since the start of war. The U.N.-brokered agreement to release the grain calls for the establishment of safe corridors through the mined waters outside Ukraine’s ports.
The Razoni, which set sail from the port of Odesa on Monday with more than 26,000 tons of corn, was scheduled for inspection Wednesday in Istanbul by a team of Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish and U.N. officials, as part of the deal, The Associated Press reported.
More ships from Ukraine are expected to set out in the coming days. Some 27 vessels have been waiting in three Ukrainian ports with cargo and signed contracts, ready to go, said U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric.
Global food prices have been soaring in a crisis blamed on the war, supply chain problems and COVID-19. While Ukraine is a major global grain supplier, the agreement may not make much of a dent in world hunger.
Most of the grain stuck in Ukraine is to feed livestock, according to David Laborde, an expert at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington. Only 6 million tons is wheat, and just half of that is for human consumption, Laborde said. He said Monday’s shipload is chicken feed.
“A few ships leaving Ukraine is not going to be a game changer,” he said.
Still, Zelensky said the resumption of grain exports will reduce Russian authorities’ ability to extract concessions from the West. “They are losing one of the opportunities to terrorize the world,” he said in his nightly video address.
The ship’s departure came against a backdrop of continued fighting, especially in southern and eastern Ukraine. A Russian rocket hit an anti-aircraft missile system in the Lviv region of western Ukraine, near the Polish border, Ukrainian authorities said. There was no immediate word on damage or casualties. (rt-ap/ez)