Friday 3 June 2022 marked day 100 of the war in Ukraine with 20% of its territory now controlled by Russia. We’ve all seen the horrific reports of death and destruction. Thousands of lives have been lost, both civilians and soldiers. Ukrainians and Russians. Hospitals, schools, homes have been razed to the ground. Entire cities flattened.
Refugees and internally displaced Ukrainians
Over seven million people have fled Ukraine looking for safety and hope in other countries. Over one million of those are in Russia – not necessarily by choice; the alternative was staying in places such as Mariupol or occupied Donetsk where they are housed in temporary facilities, like sports centres. People suffering from post-traumatic shock after being holed up in basements with little food or water are given the option of being bombed or taking a bus to Russia. President Zelensky said on World Children’s Day, that 200,000 children, some orphans and some with their families, have been forcibly deported to Russia.
Once inside Russia, refugees are interned in displacement camps. Though ostensibly free to leave, many are trapped, with no money, no resources and no paperwork, after hurriedly fleeing the war. After a couple of weeks in the camps, many are then offered placements in other parts of Russia that are economically depressed and often thousands of kilometres from Ukraine. Some are provided with Russian papers and told they cannot leave the country for two years.
On a hopeful note, there are anti-war volunteers, a kind of resistance network, in Russia who are actively working to help Ukrainians remaining in Russia and also helping those who want to leave the country by land, providing them with train or bus tickets and helping with logistics. This work is, of course, not without personal risk to those involved.
We should not forget that as well as those who have left Ukraine, there are an estimated 7.7 internally displaced people – equivalent to 17.5 % of the population. People who have fled from the hotspots, leaving everything behind, in an attempt to save their lives. Severely traumatised people with no work, no food, no homes.
The global effect of grain shortages
The effect of the war in Ukraine reaches far beyond its own borders. Global food supplies are threatened by the blockades of the Black Sea ports that have all but halted food exports. Twenty million tonnes of grain are stuck in Ukraine and there is nowhere to store the summer harvest. Negotiations are currently underway to open up Odesa and demine the port, allowing grain to be exported without Russia taking advantage militarily.
Global food insecurity is exacerbated by the sanctions against Russia, which mean that African countries, for example, now have virtually no access to wheat and fertilizers. In an interview with the Financial Times at Davos, David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Programme, says that Ukraine is a wake-up call to the world. Fifty percent of the supplies bought by the World Food Programme would normally come from the Ukraine-Russian region.
Forty-four million people in thirty-eight countries are currently on the verge of famine. The worst hit are Yemen, Burkina Faso, DRC, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Chad and Somalia. This is not only a result of the war in Ukraine, of course. In 2019, 135 million people suffered food insecurity: not knowing where to obtain food or not having the means to do so. The effects of the pandemic and drought in many regions caused this figure to rise to 276 million by 2022.
Beasley ended the interview on an optimistic note: if rich countries, corporations and wealthy individuals were prepared to pour money into the World Food Programme, this crisis could be resolved within two years and in five years’ time we could have some satisfactory results. He recognises that giving hand-outs is a short-term solution. Long-term, the aim is to empower people and provide tools to buy and sell, tapping into the entrepreneurial spirit seen in many African women, in particular. If the current situation is not addressed, however, Beasley predicts a global food availability crisis by 2023. He also warned that a knock-on effect of food shortages is increased instability in many countries around the world. Economic conditions are now worse than in 2007 and 2008, which saw the run-up to the Arab spring.
Solidarity and hope from around the world
What stands out to me after these three months of war is the resilience and optimism of the Ukrainian people. No-one expected the brave resistance this nation has shown.
In addition, it is encouraging to see the outpouring of solidarity in terms of humanitarian aid, international cooperation on the ground and stories of hope in the midst of the tragic consequences of war on this beautiful country.
In future articles about the conflict in Ukraine, I will be highlighting stories of hope. Cameos of individuals who have gone to Ukraine or the border countries to offer a ‘grain of sand’ in terms of practical help, reaching out to displaced people and refugees, children, mothers, grandmothers, those suffering trauma as a result of the war. Not forgetting those who cannot travel to the war-torn region but who selflessly give in terms of finance, prayer, support and by opening their homes to Ukrainian refugees.