One interpretation of what the colors of the blue and yellow flag of Ukraine represent is that the blue represents the sky and the yellow the wheat fields. In fact, when one travels through Ukraine, the sights are often reminiscent of the national symbol. The country is one of the key suppliers of wheat, corn and sunflower oil, producing enough food to feed 400 million people. Countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East are especially dependent on its exports. Half of the grain purchased and redistributed by the United Nations World Food Program comes from Ukraine. This means that the ramifications of the Russian invasion of Ukraine are already being felt acutely around the world, with food prices rising 16% in March alone. 44 million people may soon go hungry due to the lack of Ukrainian agricultural exports.
The challenges are many. The first is that part of the arable land, at least 10% is not available to Ukrainian farmers due to ongoing fighting or after being mined by Russian troops. Russia has destroyed some of the storage facilities and equipment, at least in some cases deliberately. Some of the equipment is being used to supply Ukrainian troops in the east and south. Some farmers have taken up arms to fight Russia or have fled to safer parts of the country. The fuel deficit due to the bombing of infrastructure in Ukraine and the closure of imports from Russia and Belarus is another problem. The new agricultural season has progressed 20-30% more slowly than last year.
Blocking the usual export routes is an even bigger problem. Before the invasion, almost all Ukrainian exports passed through its seaports where large elevators were built for this purpose. From the very beginning of its aggression, Russia has been blocking all maritime trade of Ukraine. It has also captured some of the ports in the east. At least 25 million tons of grain are expected to be exported. Ukraine’s main hopes for redirecting its exports lie in using the ports of Poland and the Baltic states, as well as Romania. The governments of the respective countries have already offered their help.
However, abrupt logistical reorientation would require additional time and cost and may not solve all problems. Ukrainian railways have been subjected to bombing by Russia. The link to Romania and the ports on the Danube has been especially vulnerable with the only available bridge already bombed four times. Another challenge lies in the different rail gauges in Ukraine and Poland, which would require expensive and time-consuming unloading of grain from Ukrainian trains and then unloading it onto Polish trains. Solutions need to be found quickly also because storage facilities need to be freed up to store the new crop.
Unsurprisingly, the search for solutions has been the theme of recent meetings between Ukrainian and foreign leaders, such as between Zelensky and Trudeau in kyiv, as well as between European Council President Charles Michel and Ukrainian Prime Minister Denis Shmygal, in Odessa. Michel said that he saw silos full of grain, wheat and corn that were ready for export but were blocked by Russian aggression. He called for a global response to the crisis. Volodimyr Zelensky has called for finding ways to unblock Ukrainian ports to prevent a global food crisis.
Other countries are still unwilling to send their navies to the Black Sea for fear of becoming a party to the conflict. So it’s likely that just defeating Russia will completely solve the problem. The outcome of the fierce battles in and around Donbas is still far from certain. Ukrainian troops in Lugansk continue to be threatened with being cut off from the rest with the battle taking place near Severodonetsk and Popasna. The Ukrainians manage to hold off Russian attacks further north, near Izium, and even took control of four more villages near Kharkiv on Tuesday.
According to the governor of the region, Oleg Syniegubov, the locals of Izium recovered 44 bodies from a single completely destroyed building. For now, the official count of civilian deaths, confirmed by the UN, stands at 3,381. However, the head of the human rights monitoring mission in Ukraine, Matilda Bogner, warns that the real number does not include thousands. of civilians killed in Mariupol and other Russian-occupied territories.
Up to 100 civilians, as well as 700 wounded soldiers, may still be inside the Azovstal plant. Exact numbers are difficult to come by due to the expansive nature of the mill’s territory and relentless bombardment. Ukrainian defenders have published photos of seriously injured people, many with amputations and deformed bodies. They ask the UN and the Red Cross to “show their humanity and confirm their values by rescuing the wounded who are no longer combatants.”
The key port city of Odessa suffered new missile attacks on Monday night and Tuesday while Charles Michel was visiting. Three Kinzhal supersonic missiles destroyed a large shopping center leaving one dead and five injured.
Meanwhile, more Belarusian troops have moved to the borders with Ukraine, Lithuania and Poland. According to US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, Vladimir Putin is preparing for a long war of attrition, with goals extending beyond the conquest of Donbas to securing control over Kherson and creating the land corridor. towards Transnistria. He is likely counting on the US and EU losing their resolve to help Ukraine as food shortages, inflation and energy prices worsen.
Joe Biden signing the Defense of Ukraine Democracy Act on May 9 is one way this war may be skewed in favor of Ukraine. The law dramatically simplifies and speeds up the process of sending military aid to Ukraine and other US partners in the region.