A ship carrying vast quantities of Ukrainian grain stolen from territories now occupied by Moscow’s invaders, was sent by a Russian company and has arrived in Turkey, the BBC has confirmed.

Footage released on numerous television outlets and on Telegram have been analyzed by the BBC, and photographs, combined with vessel tracking data, reveals that the ship is the Russian flagged Zhibek Zholy.

According to the BBC’s investigation, the vessel appeared to have turned its tracker off when it was in and around Berdyansk, located in Ukraine’s southern Zaporizhzhia region, on the Sea of Azov. This is a tactic the U.S. state department has said is being used by some ships when illegally exporting grain from occupied Ukraine.

The ship tracking monitors showed the Zhibek Zholy arriving in the Turkish port of Karasu on July 1.

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The Zhibek Zholy pictured in Berdyansk (source: Telegram)

The BBC said: “Several shipments of grain from southern Ukraine have been tracked to Turkish ports, including one which was the subject of a Sky News investigation. Ukrainian officials say they are working with the Turkish authorities to identify these shipments and those responsible, although the use of fake documents and the difficulty in tracking the origin of grain makes this a difficult task.”

The Ukrainian government has now called for the ship to be seized, and investigative group Bellingcat has confirmed the vessel currently lies in Turkish waters.

News of the ship’s departure from Berdyansk was announced on social media app Telegram by Yevhen Balytskyi, who was recently appointed by Russia as governor of the occupied areas of Zaporizhzhia.

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Balytskyi said that 7,000 tons of grain would be sent to countries that are “friendly” to Russia, and stated that Russian navy ships would be “ensuring the security” of the vessel during its voyage.

Concerning this voyage, and questions over its destination, the BBC went on to state:

“Comparing the video footage with satellite imagery of the port, we have been able to confirm that it was filmed in Berdyansk. We have also been able to track the earlier movements of the Zhibek Zholy as it made its way towards Ukraine to pick up its cargo.”

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“On June 22 it traveled from Turkey, dropping off its cargo at the Russian port of Novorossiysk. As it then approached the Ukrainian coast, its tracking signal was lost – suggesting it had been switched off.”

“The signal only reappeared on June 29 as it headed back south away from the Ukrainian coast. This tracker also reports the depth at which the ship lies in the water – and it indicated that the ship had taken on cargo.”

The registered owner of the Zhibek Zholy, a Kazakh-based company called KTZ Express, has told the Reuters news agency that the ship has been chartered by a Russian company.

A Russian Shmel-class gunboat escorting the Zhibek Zholy (source: Telegram)

Russia’s targeting of grain supplies

During the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, Russian forces have heavily targeted grain supplies, via shelling or theft, in an effort to “starve” civilians and strike at the embattled nation’s economy.

Some have compared the Kremlin’s campaign to steal grain to the Holodomor Genocide (1932-1933), during which Russia killed millions of innocent Ukrainians by controlling and blocking food supplies, including grain.

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Speaking about recent war crimes in Mariupol, where Russian Forces laid siege to the eastern port city and blocked vital food supplies, Ukrainian author Oleh Wolowyna said: “The siege of Mariupol, with the systematic destruction of the city and the blockage of all attempts to assist people trapped there, reminded me of my study of the use of famine as a weapon of terror. The Russians used hunger in Mariupol just as Josef Stalin did in Soviet Ukraine during the 1930s.”

The New York Times reported on Mariupol residents’ deprivation in late March, writing that, in one case, a young mother named Kateryna who was trapped with her children in Mariupol “read fairy tales to distract the children”, stating that when they became sick from hunger “the fire was gone from their eyes – they had no interest in anything.”

“We ate once a day,” she added. “It was mostly in the morning or the evening that the children cried out, saying, ‘I want to eat.’”

Much international focus has been placed on Russia’s ongoing theft of grain from Ukraine, with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday praising the efforts of Turkey’s President Erdogan for his help in trying to resolve the issue that is having a severe impact on the world’s grain supply.

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