NAIROBI – Ukraine’s president says tons of grain from his country will arrive in the coming weeks in Somalia, where famine approaches and the global crises of food security and climate change put millions at risk.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s comment came as Russian President Vladimir Putin accuses the West of sending most of the grain from Ukraine’s reopened ports to Europe instead of poorer and hungrier parts of the world.
Speaking at an economic forum in Vladivostok on Wednesday, Putin suggested that Russia may talk with Turkey about revising the deal that lifted Russia’s blockade on Ukrainian ports and allowed ships safe passage. Russia has alleged this before, but this is the first time Putin has echoed it.
“With the exclusion of Turkey as a mediator, practically all the grain exported from Ukraine was sent to the (European Union) nations instead of the poorest countries,” Putin said, adding: “Maybe it’s worth thinking about restricting the exports of grain and other products on that route? I will certainly discuss the issue with the president of Turkey.”
The Russian president said of 87 ships loaded with grain from Ukraine, just two have carried grain for the U.N. World Food Program — 60,000 tons out of the total of about 2 million tons.
The first of those ships docked at the port of Djibouti last week with grain that WFP said would go to drought-affected Somalia and Ethiopia. It carried 23,000 metric tons of grain, which WFP called enough to feed 1.5 million people on full rations for a month.
Somalia especially needs help. The country had sourced 90% of its wheat from Ukraine and Russia before this year. It now suffers from a shortage of food and humanitarian aid as thousands of people die and the world largely focuses on Ukraine. On Monday, the U.N. cited “concrete indications” that famine will occur in part of the country, with over 850,000 people affected.
The Ukrainian president in a tweet Tuesday night said 28,600 tons of wheat will arrive in Somalia in the coming weeks and blamed the coming famine in that country on Russia’s actions this year.
“Ukraine continues to save the world with its grain,” Zelenskyy asserted.
African nations were at the center of Western efforts to reopen Ukraine's ports as the United States and allies accused Russia of starving the world by denying exports from Ukraine, one of the world's largest grain exporters. African leaders also visited Russia to meet with Putin over the issue.
But now, Russia is trying to turn the food security issue question against the West. “They cheated the public and partners in Africa and other regions who acutely need food,” Putin said. “They were claiming that they were acting in the interests of developing countries, but acted entirely in their own interests.”
The Joint Coordination Center, run by the U.N., Turkey, Russia and Ukraine, in an email to The Associated Press said 100 outbound ships, almost all of them commercial vessels, have left Ukrainian ports so far carrying more than 2.3 million metric tons.
Breaking down the shipments by continent, the JCC said 47% of the cargo has been sent from Ukraine to Asia, with 20% of that to Turkey — a popular destination as a major miller of wheat. The JCC said 36% of cargo has been sent to Europe and 17% to Africa, with 10% of that amount to Egypt alone. Smaller amounts have gone to Sudan, Kenya, Somalia and Djibouti.
“Ultimate destinations of vessels and their cargo is governed by commercial activity,” the JCC said. It added that a third WFP-chartered vessel was anchored at Istanbul on Wednesday with plans to collect more wheat from Ukraine.
Food security experts have said many of the shipments are deliveries on existing contracts that had been struck before Russia's actions.
The JCC said the cargo from Ukraine breaks down as 57% corn, 22% wheat, 11% sunflower products, 7% barley and rapeseed, 1 % soya beans, and 4% “other.”
Isachenkov reported from Moscow. Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed.