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Istanbul Ukraine Grain Talks Wednesday

A farmer collects harvest from his field near the front line in the Dnipropetrovsk region, Ukraine, on 7.4.2022. Officials from Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations are due to meet Wednesday in Istanbul in an effort to resume grain exports f

Ukraine said on Wednesday that a deal to resume grain exports blocked by Russia appeared very close as four-way talks prepared to resume, raising hopes of an end to a standoff that has exposed millions to the risk of starvation.

More than 20 million tons of Ukrainian grain are stuck in silos at the Black Sea port of Odesa and dozens of ships have been stranded due to Russia's blockade, part of what Moscow calls its "special military operation" in Ukraine.

Kyiv and the West say the effective blockade is an unjustified war of aggression, using food as a weapon.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told Spanish newspaper El Pais ahead of the talks in Istanbul between Ukrainian, Russian, Turkish and U.N. officials that Kyiv believed it was now very close to striking a deal for exports to resume.

"We are two steps away from a deal with Russia. We are in the final phase and now everything depends on Russia," it quoted him as saying. Other participants in the negotiations were more cautious, saying much remained to be agreed.

The movement of grain is acutely important to Africa, where a combination of drought and war-triggered food shortages is creating hunger, even starvation. The African Union has called repeatedly for parties to the conflict to allow ships to move through the Black Sea.