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The latest on the Ukraine grain deal that collapsed after Russia backed out

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

One of the ongoing global impacts of Russia's war on Ukraine shows up in grain prices. Yesterday Russia pulled out of supporting grain exports. Ukraine says it wants to keep shipping grain from its ports in the Black Sea, and it says it needs partners to keep those exports flowing to control global food prices. Today in the port city of Odesa, one of Ukraine's most reliable partners, the U.S., offered to help. Joining us now is NPR's Joanna Kakissis, who was in Odesa today. Hey, Joanna.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Hello, Ailsa.

CHANG: OK, so the U.S. is offering assistance here. What exactly happened today in Odesa?

KAKISSIS: So yeah, the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Samantha Power - she was at Odesa port today speaking with Ukrainian officials and grain dealers on how to keep agricultural products moving out of the country, moving out of Ukraine. She slammed Russian President Vladimir Putin for leaving the grain transport deal and for continued attacks on Ukraine, including these drone and missile strikes on Odesa's port very early today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SAMANTHA POWER: Vladimir Putin decided to cut off a vital lifeline to the rest of the world. And overnight, Russian forces fired drones and cruise missiles not far from where we are standing right now.

KAKISSIS: Samantha Power stood side by side with Ukraine's deputy prime minister, Oleksandr Kubrakov, in the shadow of these enormous grain silos in this port that was once bustling with activity but is now eerily silent. USAID has already pledged $100 million to help farmers and Ukraine's agribusiness industry. And today Power announced an additional $250 million, some of which will help identify and create alternative routes for Ukrainian grain to leave the country.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

POWER: We have a collective interest in ensuring that Ukrainian farmers stay in business. These measures are critical, but they will take time to pay full dividends.

KAKISSIS: So Power called on other governments as well as philanthropies to match the U.S.' contribution to helping Ukrainian agriculture and agribusiness during the war.

CHANG: OK. Well, how else can Ukraine transport its grain? And, like, what are the challenges to those various ways?

KAKISSIS: So yeah. So that's a good question. While Russia was part of this Black Sea transport agreement, Ukraine was using its seaports, of course, but it was also transporting grain by river. One route is the Danube River. Power said exports along that route have gone up 10 times since the full-scale invasion. Another river, though, the Dnieper, is not much of an option anymore. A grain dealer in Odesa named Shota Khadzhishvili told me why.

SHOTA KHADZHISHVILI: (Non-English language spoken).

KAKISSIS: So he's saying that the explosion that destroyed the Kakhovka Dam in early June and caused all that catastrophic flooding in southern Ukraine has made much of the Dnieper River a navigable in the south. And he added that building a new dam and managing the environmental damage is going to take many, many years. But there's another option for Ukrainian grain, and that's to transport it by train. And the Ukrainians did do that. But a lot of that grain got stuck in Central Europe, which messed with the local market and caused local grain prices to drop dramatically. And the prime minister of Poland said today he does not want that to happen again.

CHANG: I can imagine. OK. So what are the prospects for Ukraine continuing to use the Black Sea as an export route at this point?

KAKISSIS: Yeah. So, you know, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is trying to be upbeat about it. He says he's been talking to the U.N., to Turkey, to other countries about providing security guarantees. And the deputy prime minister, Oleksandr Kubrakov - he told me that the government is also reaching out to companies around the world about using the port.

OLEKSANDR KUBRAKOV: For us, it doesn't matter whether it's Ukrainian companies or foreign companies. My, like, feel and perception is that probably Ukrainian companies - they can start first. But let's see.

KAKISSIS: He says he understands how challenging it's going to be to convince international companies to use Ukraine's ports in the Black Sea right now. But he adds that nothing can really replace this Black Sea shipping route, you know, because the container ships that use it are enormous and carry the bulk of Ukrainian grain, which is the lifeblood of this country's economy and a global food staple.

CHANG: Indeed. That is NPR Ukraine correspondent Joanna Kakissis. Thank you so much, Joanna.

KAKISSIS: You're welcome, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.