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Photos: A close-up look at Ukraine grain export inspections

A boat operator ferries inspectors to the Tzarevich ship, which is carrying 10,000 metric tons of sunflower meal from Chornomorsk, Ukraine, to Bulgaria, on Oct. 6 in Istanbul. The ship stopped en route in the Marmara Sea in order to be checked by officials from the United Nations, Ukraine, Russia and Turkey.
Danielle Villasana for NPR
A boat operator ferries inspectors to the Tzarevich ship, which is carrying 10,000 metric tons of sunflower meal from Chornomorsk, Ukraine, to Bulgaria, on Oct. 6 in Istanbul. The ship stopped en route in the Marmara Sea in order to be checked by officials from the United Nations, Ukraine, Russia and Turkey.

ISTANBUL — Since early August, more than 10 million metric tons of Ukrainian grain have been exported, most of it wheat and corn, through a humanitarian corridor set up in the Black Sea. The agreement that allows Ukraine to export grain has been a lifeline for Ukraine's crippled economy and has helped countries that were experiencing severe food shortages due to the war. It has also helped stabilize global food prices.

Shipments had essentially been blocked since the start of the war by the Russian navy. The United Nations and Turkey had to press for Ukraine and Russia to set up a system for letting ships through. The August deal hinged on parties agreeing to a complex maritime inspection routine, with international teams boarding ships to make sure they're not sneaking weapons, stowaways or exports of other items not in the agreement.

Last weekend, Moscow announced it would stop participating in the deal after an attack on its Black Sea fleet, immediately leading to concerns about global food security. But Russia reversed its decision after it secured written assurance from Ukraine that the shipping corridors would not be used for military purposes.

NPR was allowed recently to go to the Sea of Marmara with inspectors from Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the U.N. to observe how the inspections work.

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For security reasons, NPR could not identify, photograph or interview Russian and Ukrainian inspectors on the record. Hardliners in Russia and Ukraine are critical of the grain deal because it involves the warring parties working together. The overall atmosphere aboard the ship was professional and collegial.

For those few days during Russia's suspension, Russian and Ukrainian inspectors did not participate, as the U.N. and Turkey continued to implement the deal. And new vessels — those not already scheduled — were unable to go to Ukraine to pick up exports, leading to a small lag in operations.

The current agreement expires on Nov. 19. The international community is hoping it will be extended, and that Ukraine and Russia will continue to work together, despite the war, to supply food to the world.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

From left: United Nations inspectors Avani Nissanka, Madeleine Vall and Dushanthi Fernando sit in Zeyport Port Operations in Istanbul on Oct. 6, before boarding a ferry to inspect ships carrying grains from Ukraine.
/ Danielle Villasana for NPR
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Danielle Villasana for NPR
From left: United Nations inspectors Avani Nissanka, Madeleine Vall and Dushanthi Fernando sit in Zeyport Port Operations in Istanbul on Oct. 6, before boarding a ferry to inspect ships carrying grains from Ukraine.
United Nations inspector Shamil Berdaliev looks out from a boat ferrying him and other inspectors. The small ferry weaved through dozens of anchored cargo ships, many awaiting inspections, to the first vessel of the day: the Tzarevich, nearly 220 yards long and carrying 10,000 tons of sunflower meal from Chornomorsk, Ukraine, to Varna, Bulgaria.
/ Danielle Villasana for NPR
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Danielle Villasana for NPR
United Nations inspector Shamil Berdaliev looks out from a boat ferrying him and other inspectors. The small ferry weaved through dozens of anchored cargo ships, many awaiting inspections, to the first vessel of the day: the Tzarevich, nearly 220 yards long and carrying 10,000 tons of sunflower meal from Chornomorsk, Ukraine, to Varna, Bulgaria.
United Nations inspector Cristian Santos climbs aboard the Tzarevich, a 40-foot climb on a swaying rope ladder. Depending on the size of the vessel, the climb can be as high as 70 feet.
/ Danielle Villasana for NPR
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Danielle Villasana for NPR
United Nations inspector Cristian Santos climbs aboard the Tzarevich, a 40-foot climb on a swaying rope ladder. Depending on the size of the vessel, the climb can be as high as 70 feet.
Crew members of the Tzarevich ship wait in line to get their passports verified before grain inspection can begin. The entire crew lines up in the narrow passages of the ship as a Russian inspector with a manifest checks IDs. If even the slightest detail is amiss, the ship will not be allowed to pass through until they've corrected the issue.
/ Danielle Villasana for NPR
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Danielle Villasana for NPR
Crew members of the Tzarevich ship wait in line to get their passports verified before grain inspection can begin. The entire crew lines up in the narrow passages of the ship as a Russian inspector with a manifest checks IDs. If even the slightest detail is amiss, the ship will not be allowed to pass through until they've corrected the issue.
Crew members of the Tzarevich ship prepare for inspection. Inspections can take up to four hours per ship, according to U.N. inspector Cristian Santos. The teams look for weapons, exports of other items not in the agreement — and stowaways.
/ Danielle Villasana for NPR
/
Danielle Villasana for NPR
Crew members of the Tzarevich ship prepare for inspection. Inspections can take up to four hours per ship, according to U.N. inspector Cristian Santos. The teams look for weapons, exports of other items not in the agreement — and stowaways.
U.N. inspector Shamil Berdaliev, right, photographs the inspection of the Tzarevich. "The teams from Russia and Ukraine will be going to the ballast tanks, the cargo holds, forepeak, afterpeak, machine room," says U.N. inspector Cristian Santos. "We will inspect all of the compartments starting off with the bridge, then the crews' quarters and finishing off at the galley."
/ Danielle Villasana for NPR
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Danielle Villasana for NPR
U.N. inspector Shamil Berdaliev, right, photographs the inspection of the Tzarevich. "The teams from Russia and Ukraine will be going to the ballast tanks, the cargo holds, forepeak, afterpeak, machine room," says U.N. inspector Cristian Santos. "We will inspect all of the compartments starting off with the bridge, then the crews' quarters and finishing off at the galley."
On deck, a crew member of the Tzarevich opens up the cargo vaults, revealing mounds of loose sunflower meal. The Russian inspector wades through to take a sample, while U.N. inspector Shamil Berdaliev photographs as a record.
/ Danielle Villasana for NPR
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Danielle Villasana for NPR
On deck, a crew member of the Tzarevich opens up the cargo vaults, revealing mounds of loose sunflower meal. The Russian inspector wades through to take a sample, while U.N. inspector Shamil Berdaliev photographs as a record.
Sunflower meal in the storage area of the Tzarevich.
/ Danielle Villasana for NPR
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Danielle Villasana for NPR
Sunflower meal in the storage area of the Tzarevich.
U.N. inspector Shamil Berdaliev walks through the Tzarevich ship during an inspection.
/ Danielle Villasana for NPR
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Danielle Villasana for NPR
U.N. inspector Shamil Berdaliev walks through the Tzarevich ship during an inspection.
Crew members of the Tzarevich ship watch television.
/ Danielle Villasana for NPR
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Danielle Villasana for NPR
Crew members of the Tzarevich ship watch television.
A crew member shows pieces of sunflower meal to U.N. inspector Shamil Berdaliev as they inspect the Tzarevich.
/ Danielle Villasana for NPR
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Danielle Villasana for NPR
A crew member shows pieces of sunflower meal to U.N. inspector Shamil Berdaliev as they inspect the Tzarevich.
UN inispector Shamil Berdaliev looks up toward a crew member on the Tzarevich ship during an inspection.
/ Danielle Villasana for NPR
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Danielle Villasana for NPR
UN inispector Shamil Berdaliev looks up toward a crew member on the Tzarevich ship during an inspection.
U.N. inspector Shamil Berdaliev climbs down into the ballast tank of the Tzarevich.
/ Danielle Villasana for NPR
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Danielle Villasana for NPR
U.N. inspector Shamil Berdaliev climbs down into the ballast tank of the Tzarevich.
A boat operator ferries inspectors back from the Tzarevich ship. After a final pass through the checklist, the Tzarevich is officially given the green light to cross the Bosphorus Strait and deliver the grain to its destination, Bulgaria.
/ Danielle Villasana for NPR
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Danielle Villasana for NPR
A boat operator ferries inspectors back from the Tzarevich ship. After a final pass through the checklist, the Tzarevich is officially given the green light to cross the Bosphorus Strait and deliver the grain to its destination, Bulgaria.

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