KIEV — Once a fragment of the Eastern Bloc, Ukraine declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 and took with it 25 percent of the former state’s agricultural output. Famous for its wide pockets of rich, fertile soil, Ukraine was once nicknamed the ‘Bread Basket of Europe.’ Seed oils, corn and wheat are among the nation’s top exports, accounting for close to $9 billion of its overall GDP.
Ironically, however, it’s Ukraine’s largest trading partner that is partially responsible for its present-day assistance from the World Food Program. A nation that should be self-sufficient in its own food distribution is now brought to a state of crisis with a three-year-old civil dispute that is further antagonized by Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Pro-East and Pro-West
The present state of Ukraine arose from the rejection of an EU trade agreement in late 2014. Ever since the former President Viktor Yanukovych denied the West-friendly economic deal and chose instead to receive aid in the form of alliance from Russian President Vladimir Putin, the small country has divvied up into Pro-East and Pro-West sectors, waging almost war against the opposition.
Since the conflict began in 2014, over 10,000 Ukrainians have been killed, and more than 23,500 injured. Ukraine’s political and domestic instability led to a stark GDP drop of 15.9 percent in 2015, in which the nation is still recovering. An economic downfall like such has made hunger in Ukraine, and overall food security one of the top concerns in recent years.
The World Food Program estimates that, right now, 1.3 million Ukrainians are in need of food assistance. However, as the demand for food increases, so does the price. In fact, from the year 2014 to 2015, the price of an average food basket increased by 42 percent. Parallels like such will only work to contradict the direct needs of the nation, causing the already shocking influx of hungry citizens to grow.
A large reason behind this widespread food insecurity is the economic blockade put forth by the Ukrainian nationalists against the breakaway regions. So far, this nationalist-supported blockade, which has cut of the transportation of coal and various industry, has put approximately 30,000 jobs at risk, and halted operations at three steel and coal plants within the separatist region.
This action is sure to raise the already growing percent of citizens below the poverty line—which, as of earlier this year, amounted to over half the population.
In the timespan of 2014-2015, the World Food Program assisted about 350,000 Ukrainians in their mission for food security. The WFP operates in two ways, either allowing the recipient a food voucher or cash to purchase food in a local market, or by entering the more severe, conflict ridden areas and distributing food parcels.
This year it plans on reaching those still affected by the national disarray, providing assistance to the 70,000 citizens most vulnerable to hunger in Ukraine. In order to achieve this goal, however, it must meet to financial expectation of over $30 million by the end of this year.
Hunger in Ukraine has not existed as such a challenge since the Holodomor, otherwise known as Stalin’s genocide through starvation in the early twentieth century. Though the number is disputed, an estimated 15 million Ukrainians are supposed to have died under Stalin’s devastating forced famine. Fortunately, the world has developed organizations and awareness that both recognize and assist in present-day atrocities.
We now have the power to help those in need before it’s too late through organizations like WFP or the Red Cross. Through individual support, these organizations can do their job in halting the hunger in Ukraine before it reaches uncontrollable and volatile limits. For more information visit this link and learn how you, too, can help.
– Briana Fernald