Russia deliberately targets Ukraine’s food supply to create hunger, says Commission

Monument to the victims of the Holodomor in Kyiv, Ukraine, commemorating the millions that lost their lives to famine between 1932-1933. [SHUTTERSTOCK]

Russia is deliberately targeting Ukraine’s food supply in a bid to create hunger in the country, according to EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski, who drew parallels between now and the great famine of the 1930s, the ‘Holodomor’.

The commissioner said that Russia’s intentional attacks on Ukraine’s agricultural infrastructure had been confirmed to him multiple times by his counterparts in Ukraine, including during discussions this week with Ukrainian agricultural minister Roman Leshchenko. 

“There is only one interpretation [of Russia’s actions] is that they want to create hunger and use this as a method of aggression,” the commissioner said during a press conference marking the unveiling of the EU executive’s communication on food security on Wednesday (23 March).

Wojciechowski said that Russia had deliberately targeted large poultry farms, causing “tragic consequences” for the environment.

Meanwhile, European Commissioner for trade, Valdis Dombrovskis, said Russia “appears to be deliberately targeting and destroying Ukraine’s food stocks and food storage.”

“Russia’s relentless aggression not only means more food shortages for suffering Ukrainians; it also means supply disruptions that affect the whole world, particularly lower-income countries that now have to pay more for their basic food imports,” he warned.

In doing so, Wojciechowski said that Russia is using soil like a “weapon”.

“This soil is being used as a weapon against its own people, it’s being used as a weapon of starvation against the most vulnerable people in the world,” he said, adding that this is “not the first time” that Russia used this method of attacking the food system to create hunger.

The commissioner said it is a “natural reflection” that is similar to the method used in the 1930s by the Soviet regime against Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

The Holodomor, a combination of the Ukrainian words for “starvation” and “to inflict death”, refers to the intentionally engineered famine in Soviet Ukraine from 1932 to 1933.

Thanks to a combination of rejection of outside aid, confiscation of all household foodstuffs, and restriction of population movement, this unprecedented famine saw millions of Ukrainians and Kazakhs starve to death. 

Since 2006, the Holodomor has been recognised by Ukraine, and 15 other countries as a genocide of the Ukrainian people carried out by the Soviet government.

“Millions of people died in the country [despite] having the highest quality of soil and the possibility to produce food without fertilisers,” the commissioner stressed, warning of the potential consequences of Russia’s actions. 

Ukraine halts export of key foodstuffs as concerns mount over EU food security

Ukraine’s government has introduced export licensing of key foodstuffs including wheat, corn, poultry meat, and sunflower oil according to the Ukrainian news agency, Interfax Ukraine, as EU farmers sound the alarm over food security across the bloc.

In efforts to support Ukraine, the Commission has outlined an EU Emergency Support Programme of €330 million to help secure access to essential goods and services and protect the population. 

Meanwhile, the EU executive’s communication on ensuring food security in light of the war, published on Wednesday (23 March), sets out that “particular attention should be given to the most vulnerable, including refugees from Ukraine”.

“We will not let Ukraine stand alone in the face of Russian aggression,” Commissioner Wojciechowski said, stressing that the EU’s “first priority is to make sure that Ukrainians have enough food, fuel and water”. 

The Commission also aims to help them continue planting and growing cereals and oilseeds, much needed for themselves, and facilitate exports to the rest of the world.

Speaking at the Agriculture EU Council on Monday (21 March), Ukrainian farm minister Roman Leshchenko said that Ukrainian food companies giving food to civilians for free are on the verge of collapse once reserves run out, estimated to happen in one to two months.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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