By UCA News
By Father Shay Cullen*
(UCA News) — Russia’s invasion is causing inflation and threatening millions of people who depend on Ukrainian produce
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 who 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 annihilation — that of millions of people in Asia and Africa who depend on Ukrainian wheat, maize and cooking oil as do other poor nations of the world.
The Russian president 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 then to Syria. It is a war tactic to starve the world and force 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. There are around 20 million tons of grain stockpiled in silos and there will be no storage facilities available for this year’s harvest of wheat, barley and grapeseed. Despite the war and the departure of up to 5 million Ukrainians, the farmers have continued to plant crops but have nowhere to store them. The sales are needed for national survival.
The Ukrainian railway 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 huge quantities needed by the hungry world fast enough.
Besides, the gauge of Ukraine’s railways is bigger than that of Europe and transferring the grain to European trains is causing huge backlogs at European borders. Huge cranes have to lift the Ukrainian train wagons, the undercarriages are removed and replaced with European-sized wheels, and the wagon, filled with grain, is then lowered onto the European track for the train to continue to the port.
Some farmers and exporters are using barges on rivers to take grain to Romania. Trucks are also being used but the drivers need special permits and travel documents that take a week to process. All this under the threat of Russian air strikes.
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, army and air force. Even though they are outnumbered three to one, the Ukrainians are fighting back bravely and have won back an important city and territory from the advancing Russian juggernaut army that is 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.
Pope Francis had much to say about that too. Praying and appealing for peace, he called on all to remember the suffering of war victims and “fallen soldiers on one side or the other,” the wounded, homeless and refugees. “May the Lord send his spirit to make us understand that war is a defeat of humanity.”
Even the bodies of thousands of young Russian soldiers are left to rot on the battlefield by the uncaring Russian leader. Long-distance bombing is destroying all civilian buildings. This is their battle strategy and with forced deportation of Ukrainian civilians to Russia, a war crime in itself, they think they can conquer Ukraine. Meanwhile, Russian propaganda tells the Russian people stories of great success.
This war of aggression and occupation of a sovereign nation is a gross violation of the UN charter and is morally reprehensible and illegal. UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres said 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. 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 parts of Africa, the animals and crops of the poor have died. Climate change is destroying once fertile lands.
In Asia, the fruit harvest for mangos in Pakistan and India has dropped by 70 percent this year. In the Philippines, the harvest of natural organic (unsprayed with potassium nitrate) mango trees has failed in the past three years and this year only a small crop was harvested due to climate change and global warming.
The war in Ukraine is causing inflation. 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. This is hurting workers. Diesel alone is up by 58 percent, a shocking sudden increase due to the war and the EU oil embargo on Russian oil.
The only relief seen for the world so far has been the release of US$15 billion by the World Bank for projects addressing food insecurity over the next 15 months. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken blamed the “war of choice” made by Putin to invade a sovereign nation and he told the media that there was now looming the “greatest global food security crisis of our time.”
We are back to massive increases in the cost of survival and living, and we all have to make changes in our lifestyle 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 surely attack other former Soviet-era nations like Latvia and Estonia and start another European, or even a world war, with NATO.
Pope Francis has called for peace. “May the weapons fall silent so that those who have the power to stop the war hear the cry for peace coming from all of humanity,” he said during a Mass on April 27.
“Spiritually kneeling before the Virgin, I entrust to her the ardent desire for peace of so many people, who in various parts of the world suffer the senseless disaster of war,” Pope Francis prayed. “To the Blessed Virgin, I present in particular the sufferings and tears of the Ukrainian people.”
The crisis will grow worse and we can expect hardship ahead with more belt tightening. Self-reliance and strong global sharing of resources with the poorest nations is what is needed.
* The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.
Father Shay Cullen is an Irish Columban missionary who has worked in the Philippines since 1969. In 1974, he founded the Preda Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to protecting the rights of women and children and campaigning for freedom from sex slavery and human trafficking.