Hunger in UkraineUkraine made global headlines just over three years ago, when weeks of protests culminated in the Maidan revolution that unseated President Viktor Yanukovych. Russia’s subsequent seizure of Crimea and the outbreak of war in the Russian-speaking east caused the country’s economy to collapse, plunging many Ukrainians into poverty and hunger.

Ukraine’s GDP decreased by 6.6 percent in 2014 and 9.8 percent in 2015, when fighting in the east escalated and devastated the once-rich industrial regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. According to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Ukraine is now home to one of the most violent conflicts on the planet.

Around 1.5 million Ukrainians suffered from hunger due to the conflict in eastern Ukraine after two years of fighting in 2016, with 300,000 in need of immediate help and food aid. The ongoing war led Ukraine to become the only European country to require assistance from the World Food Programme (WFP), which distributed rations and aid to Ukrainians in the east. The WFP has assisted over one million people in the country since it began operations there in August 2014.

Hunger is also a problem in western and central Ukraine, untouched by the conflict but still deeply affected by the country’s economic crisis. Corruption is still seen as a major problem after the 2014 revolution, and protests against the government of President Petro Poroshenko have erupted over concerns of rising poverty and corruption.

While the war has left over 2,500 civilians dead, the conflict has stalled and Ukraine is making progress in reducing poverty since the most violent periods of the war. According to the International Food Policy Research Institute’s 2017 Global Hunger Index, Ukraine sharply reduced its rate of hunger over the last several years and was one of the strongest performers after China since 2008.

– Giacomo Tognini
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in Ukraine

Once seen as the “breadbasket of Europe” because of its rich resources, Ukraine has since had tumultuous issues regarding hunger.

Hunger in Ukraine is a prevalent issue due to years of war and conflict. The 2014 Ukraine crisis — in which Russia controversially annexed Crimea — soon led the eastern part of the country to erupt in war, creating widespread political and economic upheaval. Since 2014, there have been multiple ceasefires, but none have been able to successfully quell the conflict.

Facing the Effects of Conflict

The war exacerbated hunger in Ukraine, particularly in the easternmost regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. A 2019 U.S. Agency and International Development report found that approximately 558,000 people in Ukraine were food insecure and 103,000 people were severely food insecure. In 2016, Ukraine was the only European country to receive assistance from the World Food Programme, an organization that began its efforts in the region in 2014.

In 2016, the WFP reported that as eastern Ukraine reeled from this geopolitical conflict, 1.5 million people were left hungry and nearly 300,000 people needed near-immediate assistance. The WFP gave 370,000 people monthly food packages and 180,000 people assistance through cash transfers, according to a 2016 press release.

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization stated in a December 2017 report that Ukrainians living in rural areas most heavily affected by the war were the most at risk for hunger. The report concluded that the most at-risk populations in the region needed $5.9 million in immediate assistance.

Before the FAO released the report, the organization delivered $2.3 million worth of seed potatoes to the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The initiative was part of the organization’s attempt to bolster agriculture in the conflict-ridden regions and stymie issues of hunger and food insecurity.

“This is a hard time in the conflict area, and it is important that we use the short window of planting season,” said Farrukh Toirov, FAO’s emergency response program coordinator in Ukraine circa May 2017.

Toirov continued, “I see an essential need to continue distributing high-quality inputs like vegetable seeds that can improve the self-production of food for household consumption and also enrich local markets.”

To combat hunger in Ukraine, USAID’s Office of Food for Peace donated more than $4 million during its 2019 fiscal year to non-governmental organizations to offer food assistance to people in the most affected regions.

Changes in Aid for Hunger in Ukraine

Despite the ongoing crisis, Ukraine has seen some improvement in food security over the last 20 years. According to the Global Hunger Index, Ukraine had a score of less than five in 2019, indicating that it had an overall low level of hunger. In 2000, the Global Hunger Index gave Ukraine a score of 13.7, showing that the country had moderately higher levels of hunger.

But even though most of Ukraine does not deal with pervasive hunger, millions in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions continue to deal with food insecurity, and international efforts have slowed in recent years.

The WFP halted its efforts in tackling hunger in Ukraine in 2018, citing a lack of funding and access. Even in four years, the WFP delivered food assistance to millions of Ukrainians and pumped $60 million into the Donetsk and Luhansk economies.

“In those four years, WFP touched many lives across the country and those lives touched us too,” the organization wrote in a Medium post. “WFP will continue to monitor the food security situation in the country while other humanitarian actors will take over assisting the most vulnerable.”

Currently, organizations like the FAO and USAID are continuing to pump millions of dollars in food assistance and agriculture, hoping to eventually relieve hunger in eastern Ukraine amid immense conflict.

Meghna Maharishi
Photo: Flickr