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Zelenskyy: Ukraine grain blockade will spark famine, migration

BRATISLAVA — Russia’s maritime blockade of Ukraine is causing a “catastrophic” rise in the price of food and basic goods, which will lead to protests, famine and migration around the world, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Thursday.

“The world is now teetering on the cusp of a food security crisis,” Zelenskyy told an audience via video link at the start of the Globsec conference in Bratislava. “There is a … catastrophic rise in prices of basic products in various countries.”

Since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine nearly 100 days ago, access to Ukraine’s maritime ports have been closed off, which makes it impossible to shift grain and other food products out onto the global market by sea.

That means millions of tons of wheat and grain remain locked inside Ukraine, putting pressure on import-dependent states in North Africa and the Middle East that are usually reliant on the Ukrainian harvest.

“If we do not avert [the supply problems] we will see political chaos in Africa and Asia, and an ensuing migration crisis in Europe when people suffering form famine will seek refuge elsewhere,” Zelenskyy told the conference audience.

The European Commission wants to help authorities in Kyiv shift food exports to road and railways but it’s clear that overland routes cannot replace shipping when it comes to the volume of goods.

“The food security crisis will inevitably lead to large-scale protests in European countries,” Zelenskyy told leaders in the audience, including Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. “Many governments will have to explain to protestors why our Continent is held hostage by one country and one person in Moscow that gave the order to put a maritime blockade on Ukraine.”

Russia has offered to relieve the blockade in return for sanctions relief but with the country’s brutal invasion ongoing any deal remains unlikely. On Friday, the leader of the African Union will meet Putin in Moscow to discuss the food supply crunch.

During his speech, the Ukrainian leader also warned of a looming pollution crisis caused by the destruction of industrial and power plant facilities throughout the country by invading Russian forces.

“The pollutants can contaminate not only the rivers of Ukraine but also the Black and Azov Seas,” Zelenskyy told the Globsec audience.

He also urged countries to help make sure the Danube River, which runs through Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Croatia, Moldova, Bulgaria and Romania, along with Ukraine, remains “clean and safe” for shipping.

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