Ukraine war: Anxiety grows for grain farmers as harvest begins amid Russian blockade

·3-min read

Ukraine's fields of gold are ready to be harvested, but as Russia's blockade on the Black Sea continues, 22 million tonnes of last year's crop still cannot reach their destinations.

Dubbed the world's breadbasket, the former Soviet republic delivers grain to North Africa, Asia and Europe.

However, the invasion is fuelling a global food crisis, and farmers are feeling the pressure.

"The price we get for our grain is not good.. The storage facilities refuse to receive them. Farmers have to leave them. The front line is not far from here. And at any time, all of this could be finished from the bombing," said Yurii Vakulenkv, owner of "Ukrayina", a farming enterprise.

Farm workers put their lives in danger on a daily basis, and sometimes stumble upon warheads such as rockets in the fields.

Oleksandr Chubuk's storage bins are piled high with last year's produce. He expects to reap 500 tonnes of grain this harvest but for the very first time he has nowhere to put it.

"Our Ukrainian grain cannot enter the international market now because ports are not working. The sea route was the most important. Now, the demand for grain has decreased. Some new logistics routes through Europe are currently being developed. But Europe cannot handle such big quantities of grain," he said.

Russia 'should let the grain out', US says

Russian-installed authorities in the Kharkiv area have indicated that "the harvesting campaign (of wheat) has begun in the liberated territories of the region", according to the Russian agency Ria Novosti.

Ukraine has accused Russia for weeks of stealing its wheat crops in the occupied regions and selling them illegally on the international market.

On Friday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken challenged his Russian counterpart at the closed-door G20 talks in Bali, demanding that Moscow allow grain shipments from Ukraine.

"To our Russian colleagues: Ukraine is not your country. Its grain is not your grain. Why are you blocking the ports? You should let the grain out," Blinken told Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, whom he declined to meet separately, according to a Western official present.

Blinken told the Russian delegation about US financial assistance to deal with global food shortages triggered by the war in Ukraine, one of the world's biggest grain exporters.

"Russia is the source of the problem, the US is focused on solutions," he said, according to the Western official.

Ukraine has seen its production blocked by Moscow's military offensive, causing prices to soar and hitting poor countries particularly hard.

Moscow says it will allow Ukrainian ships loaded with food to sail if the Ukrainian army clears its ports, something Kyiv, which fears for the safety of its Black Sea coast, refuses to consider.

The port of Constanta in Romania is helping the war-torn country export the all important cereals. Ukraine is also using three ports on the River Danube and 12 border crossings with Europe as an alternative.

Meanwhile, Turkey says it is working with the UN, Kyiv, and Moscow to find a solution including safe corridors in the Black Sea.

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