‘We need to lift the blockade’: Ukraine’s farmers are unable to export grain | Ukraine
IIn a field near Odessa, Igor Shumyko indicated where a Russian missile had fallen near his farm. I blew the glass out of its windows. Three more rockets landed on a nearby plot but did not explode. I was on my land when the invasion began. The Russians think we are slaves. But our men will drive them out,” Shumiko predicted.
Meanwhile, the 42-year-old farmer admitted his industry was facing a heap of war-related problems. The biggest is what to do with this season’s crop, which is currently growing on his 1,000 hectares of land. Wheat harvest is scheduled for late June and July. Next comes the sunflowers in August and September.
Before the Russian attack, Shumyko was loading grain into a truck. It will be moved 15 miles from his village of Veliky Dalnik to Odessa, Ukraine’s largest commercial port. From there, food products continued their journey by ship across the Black Sea. Grain in Ukraine helped feed an estimated 400 million people. I went to Egypt, Tunisia and beyond.
But since February 24, this sea transport movement has completely stopped. Russia has surrounded and occupied all the seaports in Ukraine. It captured Mariupol and Berdyansk on the Sea of Azov, now de facto a Russian lake, and overran Snake Island, a strategic base, allowing it to control shipping to and from the Dardanelles.
Ukraine can no longer export its agricultural products. About 22 million tons of food are stuck. Many farmers say they don’t have room to store this summer’s crop. Others are building temporary shelters. Shumiko says that the fertilizer is about to run out, which was arriving via Odessa. His last bags of ammonium nitrate were stored next to his red jar.
The United Nations World Food Program has warned that millions of people will die if Ukraine’s ports remain closed. Vladimir Putin has offered to open a sea lane, but only if the West lifts what he calls “politically motivated” sanctions. Ukraine is accused of mining its ports. Kyiv says Moscow is guilty of blackmail, and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has called on the world to act.
The topic is now high on the international agenda. In a phone call on Saturday, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Schulz tried to persuade Putin to lift the blockade, but to no avail. Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky, said in his nightly video address on Saturday that he had discussed the crisis with Boris Johnson, as well as the related issue of military aid.
Ministry of Defense pointing to that Ukraine has deployed naval mines “due to the continuing credible threat of Russia’s amphibious attacks from the Black Sea”. She says Moscow is falsely trying to present itself as a “reasonable actor”. In fact, it is taking advantage of global food security in order to further its “political goals” and “blame the West for any failure”.
Former Ukrainian Defense Minister Andrei Zagorodnyuk said Russia would terminate any maritime agreement it had agreed to, and “sink one or two Ukrainian ships”. It has been suggested that Turkey and the United Kingdom send ships to enforce the equivalent of a “no-fly zone” in the northwest Black Sea. “We need to break the embargo militarily,” he said.
“Ukraine is an agricultural superpower,” he added. “This is our number one problem. It is a question of the country’s survival. Without grain, the economy will stall and die. This is not just about us. It is about the global situation. We are talking about hunger in massive proportions here.”
On Saturday, Denis Tkachenko, the mayor of Veliky Dalnik, met with other mayors of the Odessa region to discuss the blockade. There were no simple answers. Belarus, an ally of the Kremlin, is unlikely to facilitate overland shipments without lifting Western sanctions. Poland uses a different track gauge than Ukraine, which makes rail transportation prohibitively expensive.
Meanwhile, the Russians twice fired cruise missiles at the bridge over the mouth of the Dniester River at Zatoka in the Odessa region, blocking a vital land route to the southwest and Romania. One small solution is to transport grain to the Ukrainian port of Izmail on the Danube. But this is costly for farmers at a time when diesel prices are rising.
“It used to be easy. Odessa has a lot of traffic. It was the main port of Ukraine,” Tkachenko said, describing a temporary Anglo-Turkish plan to create a humanitarian sea corridor as “realistic,” adding: “Putin will not attack English ships.” He said his farm, which Its 100 hectares grow wheat, sunflowers and strawberries, irrigated with water taken from the Dniester River through a network of Soviet-era canals.
In Odessa, the harbor is eerily quiet. The Ukrainian army closed the port area. There are sandbags and checkpoints in the historic center of the city, with a statue of Catherine the Great, the imperial founder of Odessa. Potemkin’s steps — made famous by Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein in his 1925 film The Battleship Potemkin — are no longer available to the public.
Russia’s clear plan to storm Odessa from the sea has not yet materialized. Meanwhile, life goes on. Couples, dog walkers, and children on scooters go up and down Primorsky Boulevard, which overlooks the port. squeaking rushes into the sky; The air is intoxicated with the scent of elderberry. Statue of Pushkin with the inscription “Odessa inhabitant”.
From the port’s point of view, the deputy of the Odessa City Council, Peter Obukhov, pointed to a row of giant steel cylinders. He explained that these were grain silos filled to capacity. The cranes next to them were out of order. Nearby was a rusty three-masted sailing ship, a drogba, and an old ferry. The Black Sea shone in the sunlight. It was quiet and without a boat.
The state-owned port and the private tugs company are the largest employers in Odessa, with a workforce of 5,000 people. Their salaries contribute to the city’s budget. “It is very difficult to transport last year’s crop by land. We need to lift the blockade,” Abukhov said. “Even if Putin dies and the war stops, it will take half a year to ship the grain that we already have.”
The Russians fired long-range missiles at Odessa on several occasions. But it survived the devastation of other Russian-speaking Ukrainian cities including Mariupol and Kharkiv. One explanation is that the Kremlin believes it has some domestic support – a view not corroborated by survey data and unscientific conversations conducted by the Guardian.
The mayor of Odessa, Gennady Trukhanov, relinquished his former Russia-friendly position and is now a Ukrainian patriot. According to Obukhov, who ran against Trukhanov, Moscow still planned to seize Odessa and create a land corridor extending into Transnistria, the breakaway pro-Russian Republic of Moldova. Putin wants everything. “All of Ukraine and Moldova are as well,” Ubukhov said.
In the early days of the invasion, Russian forces advancing from Crimea captured large parts of southern Ukraine. It includes agricultural areas of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhya regions. Kyiv says Moscow has stolen grain from local producers as well as agricultural equipment and agricultural drones. Satellite images indicate that thousands of tons were loaded onto ships in Crimea and sold abroad, including to Syria.
Some farmers are cooperating with Russia, Henady Lahota, head of the Ukrainian military administration in Kherson, said. Others don’t or can’t farm because of the fighting. “What can be said for sure is that the Russians transport food and grain from the Kherson region. Traffic jams on the road to Crimea are already several kilometers long,” he said last week.
This robbery has painful historical echoes. In 1932-1933, about 4 million people died as a result of Stalin’s state orchestrated famine in Ukraine. And squads of Communist Party enforcers went to villages and individual houses, confiscating grain, seeds, cows and vegetables. The peasants died of starvation. The famine – known as the Great Famine – had a political aspect. It is designed to eliminate support for the independence of Ukraine.
Back at Velykyi Dalnyk, Shumyiko said he would sell his wheat and vegetables at the local market. It was a contribution to the war effort. He said he enjoyed his job, which includes spending time outdoors amid a thriving landscape of fields, swallows and wildflowers. “A good harvest requires professionalism and the protection of crops. When you bring it, you have a wonderful feeling in your soul.”