A ship docked in Ukraine’s Black Sea port on Friday to begin loading it with wheat for hungry people in Ethiopia. It will be the first food delivery to Africa as part of a United Nations plan to unblock grain implicated in Russia’s war on Ukraine and bring relief to millions of people worldwide on the brink of starvation.
For months, fighting in Ukraine and a Russian blockade of Ukraine’s ports meant that grain produced in Ukraine, one of the world’s major breadbaskets, piled up in silos. This caused global food prices to skyrocket and increased hunger in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Many ships carrying grain have recently left Ukrainian ports under the new deal. Still, most of those shipments were animal feed and went to Turkey or Western Europe under previous contracts.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the ship Brave Commander would take her wheat to the Horn of Africa nation Djibouti, where it would be unloaded and sent to Ethiopia.
“The wheat will go to the World Food Program’s operations in Ethiopia, supporting the Horn of Africa drought response as the threat of famine stalks the drought-hit region,” he said. “It is one of many areas around the world where the near-complete halt of Ukrainian grain and food on the global market has made life even harder for the families already struggling with rising hunger.”
According to Ukraine’s Infrastructure Ministry, the ship was expected to take on more than 23,000 metric tons. Still, only a tiny portion of the 20 million tons of grain is languishing now in Ukraine. The ministry said it docked in the port city of Yuzhne late Friday.
Ethiopia and neighbouring Somalia and Kenya are facing the worst drought in four decades in the Horn of Africa. Thousands of people across the region have died from hunger or illness this year. Forecasts for the coming weeks indicate that a fifth straight rainy season will fail to materialize for the first time. Millions of livestock, the basis of many families’ wealth and food security, have died.
“Millions of households will struggle to cope with these shocks” in Ethiopia, according to a new assessment by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network. “Food assistance needs are at record levels, with up to 15 million people in need of food assistance.”
While one shipment won’t solve the crisis, the World Food Program still heralded it as an “important step” in getting Ukrainian grain out of the country to the worst-affected countries. Ethiopian officials did not respond to requests for comment.
Yet on Ukraine’s front lines, the fighting was incessant, especially in the eastern region of the Donbas, where much of the fighting has been centred as the war approaches the six-month mark. The town of Kramatorsk was hit by 11 rockets overnight. Seven people were killed, and 14 others were wounded in and around the city, which remains cut off from gas, running water and electricity.
“Three-quarters of the region’s population has already been evacuated because incessant shelling by the Russian army doesn’t leave civilians any choice it’s either to die from wounds or from hunger and cold in winter,” Donetsk regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko told Ukrainian television.
He pointed to shelling and several explosions at Zaporizhzhia last Friday that forced the shutdown of its electrical power transformer and two backup transformers, forcing the shutdown of one nuclear reactor.
Ukrainian Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky said authorities were drafting plans to evacuate residents from towns and villages near the plant.
“There is a high-level threat, so there are plans for any possible development, including the release of radiation,” Monastyrsky said Friday. “We all have seen the Russian shelling of the plant. It’s horrible.”
He said Russian forces have stationed weapons at the plant and have denied Ukrainian nuclear workers access to some areas in the complex.
“It’s hard even to imagine the scale of tragedy if the Russians continue their action there,” he said. “We have become convinced that there are no restraining factors. The Russian authorities declare they are ready for any action, regardless of consequences.”