Russia on Wednesday agreed to resume its participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative to allow agricultural exports from three Ukrainian ports

Kyiv (Ukraine) (AFP) - Grain shipments from Ukraine resumed Thursday after Russia quickly returned to a deal allowing their safe passage following international pressure as the G7 club of rich nations vowed not to let Russia inflict “starvation” on Ukrainians.

But Moscow said it had yet to decide whether to extend the grain deal beyond November 19 – the renewal date written into the original agreement brokered by the UN and Turkey to stave off a global food emergency.

Moscow also accused Britain of training Ukrainian forces in “sabotage operations” and helping them carry out a weekend attack on Russia’s Black Sea fleet that prompted its withdrawal from the grain agreement.

“Such confrontational actions by the English… could lead to unpredictable and dangerous consequences,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.

Britain and Ukraine have both denied the accusations as “false”, with Moscow’s suspension of the grain deal drawing global condemnation because of its impact on the developing world.

After Wednesday’s announcement that Russia was rejoining the deal, the UN said Thursday seven vessels were transiting through the Black Sea shipping corridor.

Ukraine is one of the world’s top producers and the Russian invasion had blocked 20 million tonnes of grain in its ports until the safe passage deal was agreed in July.

UN chief Antonio Guterres called Thursday for the deal’s renewal to reduce “the risk of hunger” worldwide.

- ‘Hope’ for deal extension -

UN trade negotiator Rebeca Grynspan told reporters in Geneva Thursday that she had “hope that the parties will be responsible and will extend and expand the Black Sea grain initiative”.

Graphic showing countries receiving grain exported by boat from Ukraine under the Black Sea Grain Initiative

Russia has suffered a series of battlefield defeats in the last couple of months and Ukraine appears to have been behind a series of daring attacks deep behind Russian lines.

Moscow has retaliated with a wave of missile strikes targeting Ukraine’s energy infrastructure which have caused widespread blackouts, raising concern about heating, power and water supplies this winter.

Ahead of Thursday’s meeting of the Group of Seven industrialised powers, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said the G7 will help Ukraine with items including generators and heaters to survive the winter.

“We will not allow the brutality of this war to lead to masses of elderly people, children, young people and families dying in the coming winter months,” Baerbock said.

- ‘Words that Putin understood’ -

Ukraine said Russia’s return to the deal showed its weakness.

Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko denied Russian claims Kyiv had offered security guarantees, saying it had only reaffirmed those already in the deal.

“Ukraine has never endangered the grain route,” he said on Facebook, indicating Moscow had rejoined the agreement thanks to “active diplomacy” by the UN and Turkey.

“In coordination with Ukraine, they found words that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin understood,” he said.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said Wednesday the resumption of the deal was “a significant diplomatic result for our country and the whole world”.

Negotiations also underway to unblock fertiliser exports from Russia have made “important steps forward”, Grynspan said, but acknowledged there was still a way to go.

The G7 pledged to support Ukraine in the winter months as Russia's assault on Ukrainian infrastructure continues

Moscow has complained its grain and fertiliser exports continue to face issues over sanctions imposed after its invasion despite a July deal that called for sanctions to spare agriculture-related products.

Meanwhile, the UN’s IAEA nuclear watchdog said its inspectors had found no indications of any “undeclared nuclear activities” at three locations they had inspected in Ukraine.

The inspectors began looking at the sites on Monday at Kyiv’s request to refute Moscow’s allegations that Ukraine was preparing to use dirty bombs against Russian troops.

Kyiv has raised fears Moscow itself might resort to using a dirty bomb in a “false flag” attack.

- ‘I feel less lonely’ -

Meanwhile some semblance of normality was gradually returning to areas of southern and eastern Ukraine recently recaptured by Ukrainian troops although the humanitarian situation remains fragile.

In parts of the south recently recaptured by Ukraine, volunteers said they were concerned by so many residents returning despite the dangers

At a hospital in Izyum in eastern Ukraine, director Yuri Kuznetsov said a generator had been recently added and workers were gradually replacing shattered windows.

“We have about 200 patients today, compared with 50 in June,” the 52-year-old surgeon told AFP.

But in the village of Lymany in southern Ukraine, an aid volunteer said she was concerned that so many residents were returning despite the dangers.

“It would be a lot easier if these people were not out here,” said Yulia Pogrebna, 32, as she distributed food boxes to residents.

Natalia Panashiy, 54, a community leader, said: “Of course it is too early for them to be coming back.

“But I am glad that they are because now I feel less lonely out here.”