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Ukraine and Russia agree to a new deal focused on grain shipments

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Russia and Ukraine have signed a deal to allow the export of millions of tons of grain from Black Sea ports that are now blockaded because of the war. The United Nations spent months brokering the deal with help from Turkey, which borders the shipping routes. Ukrainian grain is a major source of food around the world, and prices have risen as supplies have shrunk.

NPR's Joanna Kakissis is covering this deal from Kyiv. Hey, Joanna.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: So this agreement was signed today in Istanbul. What's in it?

KAKISSIS: So this deal is supposed to free the passage of those millions of tons of grain that you mentioned and also essential cooking products like sunflower oil. And this is all supposed to come out of the Ukrainian port of Odesa and two smaller ports on the Black Sea. And remember, this is all happening while the Russians are still bombing and shelling the rest of the country.

The deal is a win for Russia because Russia got to tie its own exports to the export of Ukrainian grain. For example, Russia is a major exporter of fertilizer, which several countries around the world desperately need to ensure high yields on their crops. Turkey will monitor the shipping and inspecting of ships on the Black Sea, and they're going to try to keep the shipping lanes safe. Turkey and the U.N. are going to be the mediators here.

SHAPIRO: And this could have major impacts in developing countries far beyond Russia and Ukraine. Tell us about what the global consequences of this deal could be.

KAKISSIS: Yeah. Russia's invasion of Ukraine has set off a global food crisis. The U.N. has warned that people around the world face malnutrition, hunger and famine because Ukrainian grain could not get out of those ports. Ukraine is often described as the world's breadbasket. The World Food Programme, which provides food to places like Yemen and Afghanistan, it gets nearly half of its grain from Ukraine. India gets most of its sunflower oil from Ukraine.

SHAPIRO: So how are people in Ukraine where you are reacting to this deal?

KAKISSIS: So I'm here in Kyiv. And everyone I've been speaking to is very happy about it. You have to remember that the Ukrainian economy has been crushed by this war. And this deal, to them, is about keeping their economy alive. Two of the biggest industries in Ukraine are steel and agriculture, at least they were before the war. And they have been basically shut down because of the Russian invasion.

I spoke with Ivan Slobodianyk, who is the executive director of the Ukrainian Congress of Farmers. And he's also a grain farmer.

IVAN SLOBODIANYK: (Non-English language spoken).

KAKISSIS: And here, he's telling me that his biggest concern is that Russia won't stick to the deal and that history has shown that Russians don't keep their word. But he's also hopeful because outsiders - the U.N., Turkey - they're managing this deal. And he's also hoping that maybe the Russians are hurting too much financially themselves to renege.

SHAPIRO: How does this actually take effect? What are the next steps?

KAKISSIS: So you might see some symbolic journeys of ships in the next few days, but shipments might not be fully up and running for a few weeks. You know, they have to work out things like insurance for the ships. When the shipments do start, the U.N. and Turkey is set to inspect the grain shipments being loaded onto ships at Black Sea ports. They will also inspect ships going back into the region in case those ships have contraband or weapons. But the main focus will be on creating safe corridors for vessels because, remember, there's a war going on that could interfere with any plans for shipping.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Joanna Kakissis reporting from Kyiv, Ukraine. Thanks a lot.

KAKISSIS: You're welcome, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.