Ukraine’s Zelenskiy and Dutch PM visit Odesa, agree to boost air defence

ODESA, Ukraine (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, visiting the Black Sea port of Odesa, vowed on Friday to improve Ukraine’s air defences and to increase the security of a “humanitarian corridor” for grain exports.

Zelenskiy said Kyiv was working to strengthen its position in the Black sea to that it can continue grain exports, which are vital to ensuring budget revenues following a surge in s defence spending following Russia’s invasion last year.

“Today we had a busy day in your beautiful city of Odesa, which was dedicated to global and security issues,” Zelenskiy told a joint press conference with Rutte.

“We are working with partners to protect properly these corridors, and strengthen our positions in the Black Sea, and it also applies to the protection of Odesa’s skies and in the region as a whole…”

The Odesa region has came under frequent Russian missile and drone attacks, and Zelenskiy and Rutte visited a damaged port.

In August, Ukraine announced a new humanitarian corridor in the Black Sea following Moscow’s withdrawal from a deal allowing the safe export of grain from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports.

It has sought safe shipping routes as air strikes inflicted damage on its port and grain export infrastructure near the Black sea and on the Danube River.

Zelenskiy described the air strikes as “vile tactics” and thanked Rutte for a new air defence package which would include missiles for Patriot air defence systems.

The Netherlands has provided Ukraine with financial aid and weapons during the war, and has led efforts to help train Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets.

Rutte, speaking through an interpreter, said the Netherlands would also provide Ukraine with patrol ships.

Ukraine’s humanitarian corridor was initially announced to release ships that do not carry grain, were not covered by the grain deal and had been trapped in port for more than a year, but vessels seeking to load grain have also used the corridor.

Experts estimate that about 20 ships have entered the corridor for loading grain.

Zelenskiy also said Ukraine was nearing an agreement with some partners on insurance for ships using the corridor but gave no details.

“We are very close to that already,” he said.

(Reporting by Iryna Nazarchuk, Writing by Olena Harmash, Editing by Timothy Heritage)