Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said Ukraine’s harvest this year could be half its usual amount because of the Russian invasion, in comments likely to intensify fears of global hunger.
“Ukrainian harvest this year is under the threat to be twice less,” the Ukrainian president wrote on Twitter in English. His country’s main goal, Zelenskiy said, was to prevent a global food crisis caused by the Russian invasion.
His comments came as it emerged that the owner of one of Ukraine’s largest agricultural companies had been killed in the shelling of the strategically important southern city of Mykolaiv, near the Black Sea.
Before the invasion, Ukraine was known as the breadbasket of Europe, a key supplier for countries in north Africa, the Middle East and Asia. When Russia invaded it blockaded Ukraine’s ports, stoking a worldwide grain shortage that has caused the UN to warn of looming hunger catastrophe.
In 2021 Ukraine produced 80m metric tonnes of grain, including wheat, corn and barley, enough to feed 400 million people for six months, according to a video tweeted by Zelenskiy. This year Ukraine is on course to harvest and ship less than half of that amount, the video said.
Zelenskiy said last week that Ukraine was ready for grain ships to travel through its waters but it was awaiting the green light from the UN and Turkey. Under an agreement signed on 22 July, the UN and Turkey have guaranteed the safe passage of ships carrying grain from three Ukrainian ports.
Denied access to its major ports, Ukraine has been seeking to export grain via road and rail, but it faces delays and bureaucracy at borders, as well as capacity limits on alternative routes. As a result, mountains of Ukrainian grain remain stuck in silos, and food prices reached a 10-year high earlier in 2022, prompting the UN World Food Programme to warn of the risk of multiple famines in the next one to two years without rapid action.
Separately, the owner of one of Ukraine’s largest agricultural companies was killed in shelling of the southern city of Mykolaiv this weekend.
Oleksiy Vadaturskyi, the majority owner of Nibulon, and his wife, Raisa Vadaturska, were killed in their home during shelling that hit several targets, including schools, a sports centre and many residences, the local governor, Vitaliy Kim, said on Telegram.
Nibulon, which is headquartered in Mykolaiv, produces and exports wheat, barley and corn. It has its own fleet and shipyard and can store 2.25m tonnes of grain, the largest capacity in Ukraine. Vadaturskyi founded the company 30 years ago and “did a lot for the Mykolaiv region and Ukraine”, said Kim, according to Ukrainian media.
Authorities in Mykolaiv said on Sunday that the city had endured its strongest shelling of the war. “Mykolaiv was subjected to mass shelling today. Probably the strongest so far,” the city’s mayor, Oleksandr Senkevych said. “Powerful explosions were heard after one in the morning and around five in the morning.”
The city is the largest Ukrainian-controlled urban centre near the frontlines of Kherson region, where a counteroffensive is under way to take control of the coastal territory seized by Russian forces.
Mykolaiv has been shelled daily for several weeks and about half of its prewar population of 500,000 people have left the city.