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Pope hails departure of Ukrainian grain ships as 'sign of hope'

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis on Sunday welcomed the departure from Ukrainian Black Sea ports of the first ships carrying grain previously blockaded by Russia, saying the breakthrough could be a model for dialogue to bring an end to the war in Ukraine.

The first ship, the Razoni, set off on Aug. 1 with seven more following through Sunday thanks to a grain and fertiliser export deal between Moscow and Kyiv brokered by Turkey and the United Nations last month.

It came after U.N. warnings of possible outbreaks of famine in some areas of the world due to a halt in grain shipments from Ukraine that had squeezed supplies and sent prices soaring.

"This step shows that it is possible to conduct dialogue to reach concrete results, which help everyone," Pope Francis said at his weekly address to pilgrims and tourists in St. Peter's Square.

"This event presents itself as a sign of hope and my own heartfelt wish is that following this path, it will be possible to bring an end to the fighting and reach a just and lasting peace," he said.

Before Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Russia and Ukraine together accounted for nearly a third of global wheat exports.

The resumption of grain exports is being overseen by a Joint Coordination Centre (JCC) in Istanbul where Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish and U.N. personnel are inspecting ships.

In June, the pope appealed for an end to the blockade on seaborne exports of wheat from Ukraine, saying the grain could not be used as a "weapon of war".

(Reporting by Federico Maccioni, editing by Philip Pullella and Mark Heinrich)

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