Starvation to come from Putin’s war

by Fr. Shay Cullen

Ukrainian refugees crossing into Poland | Photo by mvs.gov.ua via Wikimedia Commons

The savage war of Vladimir Putin against the peaceful people of Ukraine is the work of a man with ambitions bent on trying to secure his place in Russian history as the leader that restored the false “glory” of the Russian Soviet Union that disintegrated in 1989. There was no “glory” there but oppression, occupation of half of Europe, and a Cold War that threatened nuclear annihilation of the world.

Putin’s massively destructive war, with continuous atrocities and war crimes, is now threatening another form of destruction- that of millions of people in Africa and the Middle East that depend on Ukrainian wheat, maize, and cooking oil, as do other poor nations of the world.

President Putin has blocked the export of millions of tons of Ukrainian cereals and cooking oil from Odessa on the Black Sea. He wants sanctions lifted before he will lift the blockade. In the meantime, evidence has emerged that Russia is stealing Ukrainian grain and shipping it to Crimea and Syria. It is a war tactic to starve the world and force the Western nations to lift sanctions while millions go hungry and many die.

Ukraine was exporting 4.5 million tons of agricultural produce per month through its ports on the Black Sea. The sales are needed for national survival. Despite the war and the departure of up to five million Ukrainians, the farmers have continued to plant and soon reap but nowhere to store it. There are around 20 million tons of grains stockpiled in grain silos, and no storage facilities will be available for this year’s harvest of wheat, barley, and grapeseed.

The Ukrainian train system is still working and is transporting grain non-stop to the border with Europe, hoping to reach the shipping ports of Hamburg and Rotterdam. They cannot transport the vast quantities the hungry world needs fast enough. Besides, the rail size (gauge) of Ukraine’s railways is bigger than the European’s, and how to transfer the of grain to European trains is causing huge backlogs at the European borders. Giant cranes have to lift the Ukrainian train wagons, the under-carriages are removed and replaced with European size wheels, and the wagon, filled with grain, is then lowered on the European track for the train to continue to the port.

Some farmers and exporters use barges on the rivers to bring grain to Romania. Trucks are also being used, but the drivers need special permits, licenses, and travel documents that take a week to process. All this is under the threat of Russian air strikes.

“The UN Secretary-General, Mr. Guterres, said that the war, together with the Covid pandemic, the drought and floods, and higher temperatures of climate change, ‘threatens to tip tens of millions of people over the edge into food insecurity followed by malnutrition, mass hunger, and famine.'”

Putin tried to capture the whole of Ukraine but has failed spectacularly due to incompetence, callous disregard for human life, and the powerful resistance of the Ukrainian people and army and air force. Even though they are outnumbered three-to-one, the Ukrainians are fighting back bravely. They have won back an important city and territory from the advancing Russian juggernaut army using brute force and poor tactics.

The brave Ukrainians have sacrificed and fought and died with courage in large numbers, fighting for their homeland against the pride and vicious intentions of Putin’s invasion. Putin will be remembered, brought to justice, and condemned for this massacre of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians by the thousands and the wanton destruction of cities.

Long-distance bombing is destroying all civilian buildings. Even the bodies of thousands of Russian youth are left to rot on the battlefield by the uncaring Russian leader. Meanwhile, Russian propaganda tells the Russian people stories of great success. It is their battle strategy, and with the forced deportation of Ukrainian civilians to Russia, a war crime in itself, they think they can conquer Ukraine.

This war of aggression and occupation of a sovereign nation is a gross violation of the UN charter and is morally reprehensible and illegal. The UN Secretary-General, Mr. Guterres, said that the war, together with the Covid pandemic, the drought and floods, and higher temperatures of climate change, “threatens to tip tens of millions of people over the edge into food insecurity followed by malnutrition, mass hunger, and famine.”

Global food prices have risen 30 percent since the invasion of Ukraine began. In parts of Africa, the animals and crops of the poor have died. Climate change is destroying once fertile lands. The only immediate answer is to get the Ukrainian grain and cooking oil and Russian fertilizer out to the world market to prevent the onset of famine in the poorest, drought-racked nations in Africa and the Middle East.

In Asia, the fruit harvest like mangos in Pakistan and India has dropped 70 percent this year. In the Philippines, the yield of natural organic (unsprayed with potassium nitrate) mango trees have failed in the past three years, and this year they harvested only a small crop due to climate change and global warming.

The war in Ukraine is causing inflation. It is hurting the workers. In the Philippines, the economy is reeling, with the price of food increasing by 2.6 percent, electricity by 18 percent, and the cost of fuel and transport by 10.3 percent. Diesel alone is up by 58 percent, a sudden, shocking increase due to the war and the EU oil embargo on Russian oil. In Eastern Visayas, inflation was higher, showing a 5.3 percent increase in the cost of food and essentials overall.

“We are back to massive increases in the cost of survival and living. All have to change our lifestyles and turn to alternative food sources like planting backyard gardens with vegetables, harvesting fallen branches for fuel, and using powerful solar flashlights or small solar panels to cut electricity bills.”

The US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, blamed the “war of choice” made by Putin to invade a sovereign nation. He told the media that there was now looming the “greatest global food security crisis of our time.” The only relief seen for the world so far has been the release of 15 billion US dollars by the World Bank for projects addressing food insecurity over the next 15 months.

We are back to massive increases in the cost of survival and living. All have to change our lifestyles and turn to alternative food sources like planting backyard gardens with vegetables, harvesting fallen branches for fuel, and using powerful solar flashlights or small solar panels to cut electricity bills.

The war in Ukraine will not be over for about two years because the world democracies cannot abandon Ukraine to the aggression of the Kremlin. If Putin wins in Ukraine, he will attack other former Soviet-era nations like Latvia and Estonia and start another European, or even a world war, with NATO. The crises will worsen, and we can expect hardship ahead with more belt-tightening. Self-reliance and solid global sharing of resources with the poorest nations are needed.

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