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The world could face a food crisis if the war doesn't end soon

Poor countries remain especially vulnerable


After three weeks of active hostilities, Russia and Ukraine continue to give conflicting reports about their progress. According to the Russian military report, 156 Ukrainian drones, 1,306 tanks and armoured vehicles, 127 multiple launch rocket systems, 471 field artillery and mortars and 1,054 units of special military vehicles were destroyed so far. Ukraine has reported the following losses from the Russian side: 404 tanks, 1279 armoured vehicles, 81 aircraft, 95 helicopters and 13,000 people.

The main fighting takes place in large cities, so the civilian population suffers a lot. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights believe that the number of deaths would be much more than what is reported so far. “The OHCHR believes that the real numbers are much higher, especially in government-controlled territory, and especially in recent days, as information from some places where there has been intense fighting has been delayed, and many reports are still awaiting confirmation,” said a report.

The horrors of war are pushing civilians to leave Ukraine. Most of them leave towards the Ukrainian-Polish border. The UN has estimated the number of refugees so far at three million. It said the Ukrainian-Polish border accounted for 1.8 million refugees (60.7 per cent). Romania accepted 4,53,000, Hungary 2,64,000, Slovakia 2,13,000 and Moldova 86,000. Nearly 1,43,000 people have moved to Russia, while Belarus accepted 1,23,000 people. Ukraine also has at least 1.85 million internally displaced persons.

The UN clarifies that the right of free movement for Ukrainian citizens within the Schengen area means that there are very few border controls in the European Union, so arrivals in Hungary, Poland and Slovakia reflect only border crossings, as many of them must have moved to other countries.

Russia claims that it destroys only the military infrastructure of the enemy and accuses the Ukrainian military of using kindergartens, schools, hospitals to shoot at Russians, to which they say they cannot but respond in response, while the Ukrainian side calls the Russian troops fascists, who are purposefully killing Ukrainians with bombs, rockets and bullets.

The besieged cities are in dire need of the so-called humanitarian corridors for the removal of civilians. Since the beginning of Russia's attack, negotiations on humanitarian corridors have been raised many times and by all sides. While the efforts were unsuccessful at first, humanitarian corridors have started working now. On March 15, almost 30,000 people managed to pass through these corridors.

As of March 16, the fiercest fighting took place in the east of the country in Donbas, as well as in the Russian military-encircled port city of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov, and in Kharkiv, the second most populous city in the country. In southern Ukraine, the Russian military managed to completely take control of the Kherson region and significantly advance in Mykolaivka and Zaporozhye regions.

As for the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, the fighting on the outskirts has not subsided. The offensive of the Russian military units on Kyiv continues and heavy fighting is taking place mainly in the northwest along the right bank of the Dnieper River. In addition, separate groups of Russian troops are trying to cut off the capital from the east and southeast.

According to Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko, two million people remain in the city while NGOs estimate the number of civilians to be one million. Russian troops were stopped about 15-20km from the city centre. Understanding the importance and symbolism of the capital, Ukrainian authorities are doing everything possible to defend the city.

Many local residents, under the leadership of the military, are involved in the construction of barricades using sandbags and concrete blocks, the city's factories have manufactured thousands of anti-tank barriers, intersections have been turned into mini-fortresses, and school buildings serve as collection points for the military and the territorial defence force.

As the Ukrainians keep up a spirited defence, there seems to be a change in the strategy of the Russian army. Russian troops are no longer trying to reach targets deep in Ukraine quickly. The practice of bypassing cities and leaving Ukrainian garrisons in the rear was replaced by sieges and then assaults on settlements.

Also, based on the events of recent days, the key goal is to encircle the largest grouping of Ukrainian troops—in Donbass. For this purpose, a strong offensive has been launched in converging directions west of Donetsk and south of Kharkiv. The encirclement should dramatically increase the losses of the Ukrainian army (if the Donbas group cannot be saved, it may lose most of the brigades fighting there). Russia also focuses on blocking Kyiv from the west and east, on both sides of the Dnieper; Russian troops here are building up strength and trying to protect the flanks and rear of their advancing troops.

The Ukrainian approach remains unchanged as its troops do not have sufficient mobility in the face of enemy air superiority. Because of this, Ukrainian troops still have no initiative anywhere and are forced to conduct focal defence based on small and large cities. Sometimes, the Ukrainian side manages to counterattack in the immediate vicinity of these cities, as well as set up ambushes along the supply routes of Russian groups.

The goal is to force Russia to disperse its forces to storm or block these strongholds, inflict losses wherever possible, and eventually prolong the war, turning it into a series of small operations for Russia with the expenditure of forces in all directions.

If negotiations between the parties do not bring peace, Kyiv may eventually face the same encirclement and street fighting scenario that has played out in a number of other cities, primarily in Kharkiv and Mariupol.

The military crisis has shown the effectiveness of the work of the local Kyiv authorities. Garbage is promptly removed, there are no interruptions in water and electricity. Sometimes in some areas of the capital people complain about poor internet or telephone connection, but these problems are not yet critical.

The city continues to live under martial law, but the entire infrastructure of the city is working. Utilities, transport workers and doctors work round the clock. Public transport operates from 8am to 7pm.

Pharmacies, shops, gas stations and service stations are partially reopening. In addition, one can get 24x7 medical and psychological assistance by telephone in Kyiv. But the people are worried how long the city will be able to maintain such efficiency. With a significant gap in logistics, a near total loss of access to the Azov and Black Seas and with deteriorating transport and communications, a significant impoverishment of shelves is happening in supermarkets.

With the reduction in imports and the absence of local products, it is not always and not everywhere that one can buy milk, bread and flour. Another problem is fuel shortage as Ukraine is dependent on Russia and Belarus for more than half of its fuel requirements. Fuel prices have jumped by 50 per cent. To tide over the crisis, Ukraine has introduced zero excise rate on gasoline, diesel and liquefied gas, and reduced VAT on motor fuel from 20 per cent to 7 per cent. It remains to be seen whether the new measures will help.

The crisis is not only hurting Ukraine and Russia, but it can also have major consequences for the whole world, especially in terms of food security. Ukraine and Russia supply about 30 per cent of the wheat to global markets. Ukraine is also a leading supplier of corn, sunflower oil and other food products to the European Union. In general, Ukraine supplies almost 14 per cent of the global food market. And this means that if the war is not stopped now, the world's poorest countries will be left without food.

The EU is seriously considering the possibility of a food crisis in Europe and the European Commission is preparing a special report on this issue, which is expected next week.

"We face a new challenge in the agro-industrial sector. We are monitoring the situation and its consequences for our agricultural producers and for food security in the world due to the fact that Ukraine and Russia are major suppliers of food products exported in large quantities," said an EU report.


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