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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers a video address urging other nations to help his country. Photo: dpa

‘Hunger catastrophe looming’, Zelensky warns Jakarta town hall meeting, with Ukraine’s grain cut off from the world

  • Ukrainian president says that in July, when previous year’s stocks in many countries are gone, there’ll be destitution; UN’s estimate of more than 40 million facing prospect of hunger this year is ‘conservative’
  • His talk’s Indonesian organiser, Dino Patti Djalal, a former deputy foreign minister, says it’s ‘critical’ Zelensky talk to an Asian audience as some in the region wrongly believe the war is ‘a European problem’

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has warned that come July, the world will see the real extent of the food insecurity brought on by Russia’s invasion of his country when stocks from the previous year are used up and destitution will visit the “already poor”.

He said on Friday that the United Nation’s estimate of over 40 million people facing the prospect of hunger this year was “conservative” and a “catastrophe” is looming.

“In July, when many countries will see their stocks from the previous year depleted, it will become obviously clear that the catastrophe is coming closer,” Zelensky told a virtual ‘town hall’ meeting organised by the Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia (FPCI), a Jakarta-based civil society group promoting internationalism.

While the president has been addressing audiences around the world virtually since the invasion began, this was his first address to an Asian audience in a town hall setting.
A Ukrainian flag covered with grain. The nation usually exports grain, and other foodstuffs, to many other countries. Photo: Reuters

“You can check your prices at stores. You will see them increasing, a harbinger of destitution for those who are already poor and also for the middle class. This will bring political chaos for certain regions of the world,” said Zelensky.

He said Ukraine is one of the “biggest and most reliable foodstuff exporters” globally, exporting tens of millions of tonnes of grain and produce annually.

Currently, 22 million tonnes of grain are “sitting in silos in Ukraine” as the country cannot send them abroad to “where they are needed at this time” as Russia has blockaded ports in the Black Sea and Azov Sea, Zelensky added.

UN chief says war in Ukraine is driving world hunger

The impact of the loss of such grain from the international market is already being felt with “catastrophic spikes” in the price of grains, cereals and other foods, he said.

Dino Patti Djalal, a former Indonesian deputy foreign minister and FPCI’s founder, said it was “critical” for Zelensky to talk to an Asian audience as there is a perception among some in the region that the war is “a European problem”.

A view of graves for people killed during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, at a cemetery in the Kyiv region of Ukraine. File photo: Reuters

He said the Ukrainian president needed to “reinforce the view that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has significance far beyond Europe, and that it endangers the already fragile vision of a rules-based world order, not to mention the humanitarian catastrophe that should be the concern of all countries”.

Last week, UN chief Antonio Guterres warned of years of mass hunger and famine if the growing global food crisis goes unchecked. He urged Russia to release Ukrainian grain.

Around the world, 44 million people in 38 countries are at emergency levels of hunger, Guterres warned. He noted that Russia’s invasion of its neighbour has effectively ended Ukraine’s food exports, with price increases of up to 30 per cent for staple foods threatening people in countries across Africa and the Middle East.

Malnourished children in a hospital in Burkina Faso, Africa, in April. The UN says hunger is being caused by the impact of war in Ukraine, the pandemic, climate change and rising costs. Photo: AP

Before Russia’s invasion, which began on February 24, Ukraine was seen as the world’s ‘bread basket’, exporting 4.5 million tonnes of agricultural produce per month through its ports, including 12 per cent of the planet’s wheat, 15 per cent of its corn and half of its sunflower oil.

But with Odesa, Chornomorsk and other ports now cut off from the world by Russian warships, supplies can only travel on congested land routes – and these efforts to get the produce out are under Russian attack.

Drums of war drown out cries of hunger

Zelensky said his nation was “working on measures to alleviate the food crisis. We are trying to find new routes. We want to supply the world market with our grain, using railways and European ports. Even these attempts Russia tries to cut short, destroying our railways, our logistical hubs”.

The Ukrainian president also warned that Russia’s blockade of the Black Sea and parts of the Azov Sea was a kind of “training” in aggression and had implications for other nations.


Starving Afghans queue for free bread as Kabul bakery donates food to needy

Starving Afghans queue for free bread as Kabul bakery donates food to needy

“This seaport blockade is a training for our potential aggressors, who want to subjugate neighbours or take over territory. If Russia is successful in going unpunished for that (sea blockade) in this war against Ukraine, then other countries will see that sea blockade is an ‘admissible’ pressure in the modern world,” said Zelensky.

This meant “that no country or trade route will be able to feel safe,” he added.

Zelensky urged Indonesia and the rest of the world to unite in helping to end the war so Ukraine could help end the food crisis. If the world could help unblock his country’s ports, Zelensky said Ukraine would send out “its reserves”.

However, he acknowledged there is not as much grain as there used to be. “The new harvest is much smaller because Russian troops mined our fields and destroyed our agricultural equipment,” he said.

Lift sanctions and we’ll help overcome food crisis, Russia tells West

He also said Russia was using an international food crisis “as a weapon to pressure the world” and he was pessimistic about the prospect of there being any real dialogue for peace.

“I haven’t heard even once from them responding to a proposal (from Zelensky) to stop this war.”

He said he was in favour of negotiations and supported a diplomatic solution.