Ukraine to send grain via rail as Russia ends Black Sea deal

Ambassador to UAE says work under way to expand Danube ports to keep ‘lifeline’ food supplies open

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Ukraine's government is working to send grain supplies on trains to Europe, a senior diplomat said, after Russia ended the Black Sea deal on Monday.

Dmytro Senik, Ukraine’s ambassador to the UAE, told The National of plans to also build additional port capacity on the Danube to handle cargo for shipments around the globe.

Moscow pulled out of the grain initiative demanding a relaxation of western sanctions so its own producers could export more fertiliser and grain.

Brokered by Turkey and the UN, the Black Sea deal signed in July last year has allowed cargo ships carrying more than 33 million tonnes of grain and other food safe passage from seaports such as Odesa.

We are working with our neighbours in Poland and Romania to use the railways to transport grain to the EU
Dmytro Senik, Ukraine’s ambassador to the UAE

The deal's collapse will reignite the food crisis, including in the Middle East and Africa, where many nations are highly reliant on Ukrainian produce.

“The immediate consequences of Russia ending the Black Sea grain initiative will undermine global food security especially affecting countries in Africa and Middle East,” said Mr Senik.

“It will mean neglecting the interests of countries from the Global South, particularly Africa, which depends on food supplies at affordable prices.

“It will cause disruption in the markets, price hikes and will affect the most vulnerable countries.”

Mr Senik said his country was committed to averting the crisis.

“It’s our moral obligation to make sure nobody will suffer from famine,” he said.

“The Black Sea grain initiative is a very important lifeline because Ukraine has been and always will be a reliable contributor global food security.

“The Ukrainian government and private sector is working hand-in-hand to develop alternative routes."

Increasing port capacity

Three ports on the Danube are already running at full capacity and during the first five months of this year handled 12 million tonnes of cargo.

They cannot handle the same volume of grain as the Black Sea ports of Odesa, Chornomorsk and Pivdenny and the country will need time to scale up the port capacity and operations.

“Now Ukraine is working on expanding operations and terminals on the Danube River, which will require time, resources and increased cost,” Mr Senik said.

“We have already started work of building new terminals.”

Road and rail

The other option is for the grain to be shipped via the road and rail network to European ports.

“We are working with our neighbours and partners in Poland and Romania to use the railways to transport grain to the EU,” Mr Senik said.

“We are looking at different options so we can reach EU countries and then use their port facilities.”

However, rail cargo comes with its own set of problems, as Ukraine’s tracks are wider than its EU neighbours, so delays take place at the border where wagons must be unloaded or have their wheels changed.

UN chief 'deeply regrets' Russia's withdrawal from Black Sea grain deal

UN chief 'deeply regrets' Russia's withdrawal from Black Sea grain deal

The Ukrainian government had earlier announced the creation of a special insurance fund of about $547 million for companies whose ships would come to Ukraine’s Black Sea ports if Moscow quit the grain deal.

Mr Senik confirmed the fund had been established and there was interest from companies.

“The Ukrainian government has established a special fund, which envisages compensation in case of missile attacks that will damage commercial vessels,” he said.

“This mechanism has been developed and there are companies that have already expressed interest in participating.”

Crucial food supplies

Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of sunflower, maize, wheat and barley.

Global food prices soared after the Russian invasion in February last year, when naval vessels blockaded Ukrainian ports.

The UN has warned that more than 40 million people in 38 nations were facing “emergency levels of hunger”.

Mr Senik said supplies had been greatly affected over the past few months due to delays in inspections and attacks on grain terminals in a port in the Odesa region.

“There were only one or two vessels a day going through inspection compared to eight vessels per day last fall, which is basically 15 per cent of the capacity,” he said.

The UAE has been part of efforts to keep the grain supply route open.

President Sheikh Mohamed discussed the importance of the Black Sea grain deal during a call with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres last week. The two leaders also spoke on ways to co-operate on grain exports.

Mr Senik said the Ukrainian government was in contact with countries in the Gulf on the food security issue.

“We do speak with our friends in the Gulf and the Middle East to ensure that food commodities will be exported from Ukraine, because we do realise that many countries in the Global South need it for well-being of their people and for social stability,” he said.

Updated: July 17, 2023, 11:45 PM