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Global Economy

Test of nerves at the Black Sea

They bite quite well, the Black Sea fish that Nikolai and Oleg are after on this sunny afternoon. The two men are fishing at the pier in the Ukrainian port city of Odessa and are looking directly at part of the mined port. In addition to high cranes, grain for export is stored in large silos.

Civilian cargo ships have been anchored here since the Russian attack. With the Ukrainian-Russian agreement in Istanbul, the first ships are to set off again – loaded with wheat, barley, corn, sunflower oil or fertilizers.

"If we have it and others need it, I'm not against it," says Oleg. "Let other people get something in God's name."

"Actually, the grain should stay here, because there is a drought everywhere and we don't know how good the next harvest will be," says Nikolai. "It would be better if the grain stayed here."

68 ships blocked in ports

Nikolai, 44 years old, a carpenter in red swimming trunks, is pretty much alone with this opinion at the moment. Because whether it's the Ukrainian leadership, farmers, companies involved or shipping companies – everyone is waiting for the lucrative and politically important export of almost 20 million tons of grain.

According to the port authority, 68 ships were blocked in the three Black Sea ports of Odessa, Pivdennyi and Chornomorsk. The first can now sail, reports a loading specialist in the port of Chornomorsk.

But the difficulties remain enormous, according to the engineer, who does not wish to be named publicly. "There are many issues related to safety at sea. And after almost a half-year break, you can't solve it in a day or two or a week," says the man. "Especially when it comes to safety under these conditions." The navigation alone is very different now than it was before the war.

Mined transport routes, Russian missile attacks

The Ukrainian army is clearing the three ports and the sea of its own mines, but the voyage is still extremely risky for the ships and their crew: uncontrollable floating mines or Russian rocket attacks remain a deadly danger. Just like Russian warships or Russian mines, which are also to be cleared.

This is to be monitored by a control center in Istanbul. It's a complicated process, according to Dmytro Barinov, spokesman for Ukrainian ports. "It would be bad if everything failed," says Barinow. "The ports have to work, the people too, because they need money for their families. Just like the Ukrainian economy and the farmers." In Europe, prices have risen and people in poor countries do not have enough food. "That's why it's a big problem."

Export agreement for 120 days

The Ukrainian-Russian export agreement is initially valid for 120 days – and the government in Moscow is benefiting enormously from it. Because Russia is allowed to export its own grain or fertilizers.

In addition, shipping companies or insurers involved in the trade do not have to fear violating Western sanctions if they are involved in the processing.

Uncertain future

Having to accommodate Russia of all places also bothers the angler Nikolai. He casts the line and hopes that he can stay in Odessa. Because export or not – the future is uncertain.

"You've probably been to a train station before," says Nikolai. "We live here like in a waiting room. Nobody knows what will happen next. But if we are chased out of there as well: That would be the worst."

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