The Sierra Leone-flagged Razoni reached Turkish waters one day after setting off with 26,000 tonnes of maize from Ukraine

Kyiv (Ukraine) (AFP) - The first shipment of Ukrainian grain to leave Odessa since Russia’s invasion reached Turkish waters on Tuesday under a landmark deal to lift Moscow’s naval blockade in the Black Sea.

The Sierra Leone-flagged Razoni arrived at the edge of the Bosphorus Strait shortly after Kyiv announced the start of mandatory evacuations from the war-scarred Donetsk region now bearing the brunt of Russia’s five-month assault.

In Moscow, Russia’s supreme court labelled Ukraine’s Azov regiment a “terrorist” organisation – a decision that could pave the way for fighters captured by the Kremlin to face lengthy jail terms.

Main ports in the Black Sea region

The Razoni set sail under a deal brokered by Turkey and the United Nations aimed at getting millions of tonnes of trapped produce to world markets and curbing a global food crisis.

It is due to be inspected Wednesday near Istanbul by a team that includes Russian and Ukrainian officials before delivering its cargo of 26,000 tonnes of maize to Tripoli, Lebanon.

The UN secretary-general’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric said he hoped for “more outbound movement” on Wednesday.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said he wished for “regularity”.

“When one ship leaves a port, others should be waiting for their turn, being loaded or reaching a port,” he said.

Kyiv said it had started mandatory evacuations from the eastern region of Donetsk

The halt of deliveries from Ukraine – one of the world’s biggest grain exporters – has contributed to soaring food prices, hitting the world’s poorest nations especially hard.

Kyiv says at least 16 more grain ships are waiting to depart.

But it also accuses Russia of stealing Ukrainian grain in territories seized by Kremlin forces and then shipping it to allied countries in Africa and the Middle East, such as Syria.

Russia attacked the Odessa port from which the Razoni set off on Monday less than 24 hours after the grain deal was signed in Istanbul last month, putting the safety of future deliveries in doubt.

- Donetsk evacuations -

Russia has continued to pound cities and towns across Ukraine’s sprawling front line.

Kyiv said it had started mandatory evacuations from the eastern region of Donetsk bearing the brunt of the Russian offensive, after Zelensky urged the estimated 200,000 remaining residents to leave.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said a train carrying “women, children, elderly people, many people with reduced mobility” arrived in the central city of Kropyvnytskyi on Tuesday morning.

A building damaged by Russian shelling in Mykolaiv

More than 130 people were evacuated from the Donetsk region, governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said.

Officials have said they want to get residents out of the battered region before the start of winter as gas pipes for heating have been severed.

In the south of the country, the head of Ukraine’s Kryviy Rig military administration said Russian shelling had killed two civilians in a minibus trying to leave the Moscow-controlled Kherson region.

Ukrainian forces have in recent days been pressing a counter-offensive to drive out the Russians from the region.

Dmytro Butriy, the head of the Ukrainian authorities in Kherson, said Tuesday they had so far taken 53 settlements back under their control.

The mayor of the nearby city of Mykolaiv said Russian strikes had damaged a university dormitory. He said 403 people had been killed in his region since the invasion, but hoped that the counter-offensive would “result in a decrease of shelling”.

- More Western arms -

Ukraine was bolstered by more supplies of Western arms – particularly long-range artillery – ahead of the planned push to retake Kherson city.

The United States announced a new tranche of weapons worth $550 million for Ukraine’s forces, including ammunition for increasingly important rocket launchers and artillery pieces.

“Our artillerymen are ready to turn night into day to expel the Russian invaders,” Ukraine’s Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said.

In Moscow meanwhile, Russia paved the way for captured members of Ukraine’s Azov regiment to face stiff prison sentences.

Fighters from Azov were among 2,500 Ukrainian soldiers who surrendered in May after weeks of fierce resistance at the Azovstal steel plant in devastated Mariupol.

The regiment – which was incorporated into Ukraine’s national guard in 2014 – is demonised by Moscow for alleged far-right links.

Its members were among 50 Ukrainian servicemen killed last week in an attack on a jail holding prisoners of war in Russian-occupied territory.

Ukraine has accused Moscow of deliberately executing the detainees, while Russia says Ukrainian forces hit the facility with missiles.

Azov, in response to the Russian court ruling, called on the United States and other countries to recognise Russia as a “terrorist state”.