Most of the cargo ships that have managed to leave Ukrainian ports to date are commercial vessels carrying grain, purchased under commercial contracts that were concluded before the start of Russia’s war against Ukraine. The United Nations believes that commercial trade plays a big role in stabilizing the global market even if that trade does not go directly to countries facing food shortages. The UN World Food Program is making efforts to deliver Ukrainian grain directly to those African countries where there is hunger. To that end the organization chartered the Brave Commander cargo ship carrying 23,000 metric tons of grain from the Ukrainian port Pivdennyi to Ethiopia.

Russian media have been busy spreading the Russian Foreign Ministry statement accusing the West of hypocrisy, having said that world food security depends on the unblocking of Ukrainian ports, not a single ship with Ukrainian grain has sailed off to starving African countries. All ships, Russia media claim, are allegedly aiming for Western ports, with cargo that is not mainly wheat, but rather corn and sunflower oil.

Despite Ukraine managing to overcome the Russian grain blockade, with the first ship carrying Ukrainian grain leaving the port of Odesa on August 1, the Kremlin continues to exploit the topic of food shortages for its propaganda purposes. The Russian Foreign Ministry claim that Ukrainian ships are mainly sailing for Western ports is another Kremlin manipulation intended to discredit the Istanbul agreements that unblocked Ukrainian ports to grain exports via the Black Sea.

In accordance with the Istanbul agreement, only part of the exported foodstuffs is intended for countries experiencing food shortages. Most of the ships that have managed to sail out of Ukrainian ports are carrying grain and vegetable oil purchased under commercial contracts signed before the start of the war. According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Infrastructure, 16 ships have left Ukrainian ports carrying agricultural products to be delivered to nine countries, six more ships have entered ports to pick up fresh cargo. The UN tracks every ship that leaves Ukrainian ports and counts the tonnage of the grain they carry. According to UN data, Ukraine has already managed to export 438,000 tons of foodstuffs – corn, soybeans, wheat, sunflower oil –  to countries such as Turkey, Great Britain, Ireland, China, and Iran. 

According to the New York Times commercial ships are the first ones to sail from Ukrainian ports because it is necessary to free up scarce dock space so that other ships can enter ports and load grain. In addition, as Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN Secretary General, previously stated, priority is given to ships that have been “trapped” in Ukrainian ports for the longest time. After that, other ships under commercial contracts will be able to enter Ukrainian ports.

UN officials believe that commercial grain trade plays an important role in stabilizing the market, even if that commercial trade does not directly send grain to countries facing food shortages. Stéphane Dujarric said that unblocking Ukrainian ports has already led to a drop in world food prices, which will ultimately help countries facing food insecurity.

In addition, the UN is making clear efforts to supply Ukrainian grain directly to those countries that need food support. Back in early August UN Food Program representatives announced that they planned to charter ships and send at least 30,000 tons of wheat from Ukraine.

As part of this program, the first vessel chartered by the UN World Food Program, departed from the Pivdennyi Ukrainian port on April 15 carrying grain. The Brave Commander will carry 23,000 metric tons of grain to Djibouti for distribution in the Horn of Africa where 18 million people face severe hunger. According to the World Food Program, another 7,000 metric tons will be delivered on another ship in the very near future.

Northeast African countries are suffering from one of the worst droughts in recent decades. The threat of famine in those countries was exacerbated by Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports. The UN World Food Program is carrying out humanitarian food supplies to Africa at its expense.

During the ceremony accompanying the departure of Brave Commander from Pivdennyi, Denise Brown, the UN Resident Coordinator in Ukraine said that this cargo is the first of many that will go to countries experiencing food difficulties, five of which are already on the brink of starvation.

“All three Odesa ports have joined the Black Sea grain initiative. This is an important day, first of all because Brave Commander is being loaded with Ukrainian grain. This is the first ship operating under the United National World Food Program. Through this program I hope that by September we will reach the kind of grain shipment volumes we had before the war,” said Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov.

According to the African Development Bank, prior to Russia unleashing its war on Ukraine, Ukraine and Russia supplied more than 40% of wheat for Africa. Russia’s military aggression has caused a shortage of 30 million tons of food on the African continent, which in turn caused food prices to rise by 40%.

StopFake’s analysis of Russian propagandist disinformation about the unblocking of Ukrainian ports Anti-Russian Conspiracy: Russia’s Ukrainian Grain Narratives provides additional detail on the Russian blockade and its consequences.