BUT a dozen pallets of meat, two pallets of fresh vegetables, three pallets of fruit. There was fish, pasta, buckwheat and sugar. Everything is on the way to needy families in Ukraine. Everything is destroyed.
On Wednesday, a Russian missile hit a train near Donetsk, Ukraine, carrying 34 pallets of food to be distributed by World Central Kitchen, an aid organization to chef Jose Andres. The food never made it to the hungry Ukrainians, another example of Russia targeting food as its military tries to succeed in its unprovoked invasion.
“The rail infrastructure, which was relatively unscathed at the start of the war, is now a prime target,” said World Central Kitchen chief executive Nate Mook. Forbes. “It became a battle for people and their ability to eat.”
Mook, who returned to Washington after feeding Ukrainians from Kyiv to Odessa for 120 days, says attacks on trains have increased as the railroad has become one of the main means of transporting food due to the Russian blockade of the Black Sea. Russian diplomats are currently trying to negotiate sanctions relief in exchange for a safe corridor for the export of key agricultural commodities such as wheat and sunflower oil. The export of these foodstuffs is essential as pockets of famine intensify around the world. Time is of the essence. In East Africa, one person dies of acute hunger every 48 seconds, according to a report released in May by Oxfam.
“It doesn’t look like Russia is interested in food leaving Ukraine,” Muk says. “They are trying to blackmail the world by saying that we are going to starve people to death if you don’t lift the sanctions.”
A Russian government spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
According to the Ukrainian government, Russian forces recently fired rockets at granaries and destroyed railroad infrastructure designed to transport grain. Russian fighters also stole up to 500,000 tons of grain from the occupied territories and tried to sell it on the international market, the Ukrainian government said. Speaking of food, Mook says he is worried about his organization’s 4,300 volunteers in the country.
“Essentially, we have to act on the assumption that we will be specifically targeted, even if we are not involved in hostilities,” says Mook.
An estimated 20 million tons of grain are stuck in Ukraine’s elevators. Reducing supply pushes prices up. Much of this would have been exported to countries in North Africa and the Middle East. Now that the wheat harvest begins later this month, more storage space is needed, and unless more space is made available soon, much of the grain could go bad while tens of millions of people around the world starve.
Unless Russia lifts its blockade of Black Sea ports, which typically handle about 30% of the world’s exported crops, Ukraine will only be able to export 2 million tons per month, or one-third of what it used to ship monthly. Even if Russia lifts the blockade, many ports have mines planted by both Russian and Ukrainian combatants that still need to be cleared before the ships can pass safely.