Just a few days ago, I returned from my second trip to Ukraine since the start of the war. Many long hours of the train journey to Kyiv and back to Lithuania are inevitably spent looking out the window at the seemingly endless fields of plowed black earth that – despite the war – are beginning to show new greenery planted for spring crops.
Here in Ukraine there is an astonishing amount of the most productive agricultural land in the world. Ukraine is a A major food supplier in the world. Focusing on the war and immediate efforts to help Ukrainians fight and win, another crisis has been overlooked: ensuring Ukraine continues to feed the world even though Russia wants to stop them.
Every field I saw through the train window was taken care of. Many of them, from what I could see, were by old people.
Ukraine is a country at war. Almost everyone who can fight is far from fighting. Everyone who managed to save their children and the elderly from the bombing left the country. And everyone who remains – they are working to keep Ukraine and its industries working as well as they can.
Older Ukrainians, clinging to the ground, work the soil for the next harvest. I can’t think of a stronger symbol that shows how Ukrainians feel about the future. There is work to be done. They will be there for the next harvest. and the other after that.
Since last year’s harvest, Ukraine is still in silos close to 30 million tons of cereals. Despite war, bombing, and labor shortages – and the many fields that are inaccessible or contaminated with unexploded ordnance and battle rubble – this year’s harvest could bring in millions more. To put this in perspective: Egypt, the largest importer of wheat, imports 13 million tons every year; China, 9.64 million tons. Additionally, Ukraine is a major exporter of corn, sunflower oil, rapeseed, other vegetable fats, and more. half a pill The United Nations World Food Program comes from Ukraine.
All these products are in worldwide demand, there is no substitute, and it is clear that the lack of Ukrainian goods will be felt by everyone in every country. Certainly, not everyone will feel this effect in the same way. In America and European countries such as Lithuania or Germany, goods will still be available. We will feel the price hikes, but perhaps government assistance will offset the cost for the weakest parts of society.
In the countries of Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, where the dependence on food imports is very high and government support is not readily available, the population will face scarcity and a sharp rise in the prices of what is available. In conflict zones, the most vulnerable will face the worst deficits. Much of the world may face a food crisis that will not end until the war in Ukraine is won.
At the moment, the Russian turmoil in Ukraine affects production to a much lesser extent than transportation. Ukraine exports a lot of food, and has an infrastructure specifically designed to handle this harvest and export. Much of this is concentrated in the ports of Ukraine, which are now blockaded by Russia to stifle Ukraine.
The world needs Ukrainian food, so we need to help Ukraine export what it produces. Last year’s harvest or this year’s harvest should be moved can not be stored. The loss of either crop from global supply will affect pricing and availability. Knowing that he will come to the market will dampen the uncertainty and avoid a crisis.
A lot of contingency planning is done to find alternatives, but – on paper or in reality – none of them are close enough.
Rail traffic to Poland seems like a viable option, but due to technical decisions from tsarist times, The railway gauge in Ukraine is different Of that in neighboring Poland and Romania and a large part of the European Union. This means that in order to export anything by rail, each wagon needs to be scaled or unloaded/reloaded. This is expensive and takes a lot of time. This also means that a very limited amount of grain can reach the port of Lithuania by rail, for example, because the change of scale has to happen twice, once at the Ukrainian-Polish border and again at the Polish-Lithuanian border.
No change of measure is needed for passage through Belarus to the Baltic ports, but to get less than a third of Ukraine’s grain on the market, it’s hard to know if the concessions demanded by President Alexander Lukashenko – who made his country a participant in the war by allowing troops to Russia to stand up and partially attack Ukraine from Belarus Worth the risk of giving him influence over the world’s food supply.
Trucking cannot begin to meet the need, even with special transportation permissions being considered. It is expensive, and there is already a shortage of diesel in Ukraine.
Even considering each collective alternative, only a percentage of the crops accumulated in Ukraine could run out. It is one thing but still not enough.
The only way to fully return Ukrainian food to the global food supply is to allow Ukraine to use the Odessa port for agricultural exports. The port of Odessa is designed to handle the volume and bring it out to the world. Now, it is still threatened by Russian attack, isolated by the Russian blockade, and rendered unusable. This situation must change. There is no other way to feed the world.
Countries that consider the imminent global food crisis seriously challenged — and who do not believe that Russia should have the right to cut off Ukraine or that Russia should take advantage of increased prices for its grain exports to fund the massacre of Ukrainians — must ensure the safe passage of ships from Odessa through the Black Sea to Bosphorus strait.
Yes, this would require a naval presence to ensure that civilian ships carrying grain were not attacked by the Russian fleet in the Black Sea and that Russian ships did not run the pass to capture Odessa. And yes, we must also ensure that Ukraine has medium-range missiles that can continue to defend Odessa from a Russian attack.
But it is a non-military endeavor, not an escalation to ensure food supplies. If we are serious about avoiding a crisis, this is what needs to be done. Odessa must be opened. Ukrainian grain should flow. Russia must not be allowed to starve the world to suffocate Ukraine.
One of the biggest disasters of the 20th century – one not many know – was when Stalin imposed a policy of starvation on Ukraine to undermine their identity and force them to comply with Soviet integration and goals. during the Holodomor Death by starvation Millions upon millions of Ukrainians starved to death. They starved to death while their fields remained the breadbasket of the Soviet Union. They were starved to death while harvesting grain for Stalin.
Coming from Lithuania – another formerly captive country that suffered from Stalinist terror – I know what it means for older Ukrainians toiling in the fields during the war Putin brought to Ukraine. They grow grain for Ukraine, its people and its future. It’s about national pride and devotion, and it’s about history – the harrowing stories of what it took to survive when Moscow starved Ukraine.
This time it’s Putin with a famine weapon, and he’s directing it to the world’s most vulnerable through his war in Ukraine.
During the Great Famine, the West looked away. We still don’t know the stories – but the Ukrainians do. And planting crops, tending the fields, and bringing in the coming harvest – for Ukraine’s survival, for Ukraine’s prosperity – is as challenging and service work as fighting in a war.
We say never again. Let’s say never to Russia again. This time we have a chance to mean it. Ukraine leads, and we have to help make it happen. We must end the blockade of Odessa and Ukraine for access to the Black Sea and bring Ukrainian bread to the world.
Gabrilius Landsbergis, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania.