Food and medicine shortages in Ukraine spark global relief effort


In recent days, much of Ukraine’s domestic food production and distribution has come to a standstill, causing shortages in parts of the country, especially in areas hardest hit by the Russian invasion. So far, that hasn’t turned into widespread starvation, thanks in part to a national and international effort to get food across the country.

Russia and Ukraine had agreed on Saturday to open humanitarian corridors to evacuate civilians from the beleaguered eastern cities of Mariupol and Volnovakha, and to resupply them with food and medicine, but the deal fell apart when Kiev accused Moscow to violate the ceasefire.

Earlier this week, Fozzy Group, Ukraine’s largest supermarket chain, had plenty of food, including fresh produce like cucumbers and tomatoes, in warehouses scattered across the country, according to a spokesperson. But a shortage of drivers and loaders, active fighting on the roads and a lack of gasoline are hampering the movement of supplies from its warehouses to stores.

More than 90% of the company’s roughly 1,000 stores – operating under banners such as Silpo, Fora and Fozzy – are open, including most stores in Kyiv, the spokesperson said.

Even in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city and the site of some of the heaviest shelling by Russian forces during the invasion, Fozzy tried to keep shops mostly open, sometimes closing them for an hour or two when he determines that the situation is becoming dangerous. , but then reopen as quickly as possible. The company regularly alerts shoppers about store hours and product availability on its websites and through social media, the spokesperson said.

Fozzy’s restaurant chain is closed. His pharmacy chain, Bila Romashka, is open. The company took to Facebook, Instagram and other social media to call for volunteers to help drive trucks and load goods from its six logistics hubs.

Dutch food retailer Spar International said on Monday that 95% of its stores in western Ukraine, farther from the most intense fighting, remained open, although many only operated for a few hours. The company, which has 65 supermarkets across Ukraine, has set up an internal fund to help its Ukrainian operations source products locally from existing suppliers. It is simultaneously working to establish new suppliers of essential goods to send to its distribution center in Ukraine, located about 60 miles from the Polish border.

“With the continued escalation of war and the prospect of further impact on local supply chains, it is essential to prepare the capacity to maintain supply to our operations in neighboring countries,” Spar said.

Imports from overseas suppliers have been halted. Dr August Oetker KG, a German company that usually exports yeast, baking powder and other baking ingredients from Germany, Poland and Romania to Ukraine, halted last week and closed its warehouse in Kyiv, a spokesman said. “There are no trucks that can deliver our goods at the moment,” he said.

To help fill the void, global nonprofits are stepping up efforts to provide food to Ukrainians. The World Food Program said its first truckloads of food rations for the country arrived earlier this week at the Ukraine-Poland border. The food is coming from Turkey, according to a spokeswoman, who said the WFP would initially focus on providing food to people gathered at the border, mainly women and children.

In areas where people are on the move and unable to cook, WFP is providing emergency rations of canned and packaged food – its first shipment contains 200 tonnes. In places where people still have access to shops and cooking facilities, it offers cash vouchers and food vouchers.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, meanwhile, is trying to deliver medical equipment. But the trucks “simply cannot move because of the hostilities”, a spokesman said. The Red Cross has 600 people on the ground in Ukraine but in areas of active combat staff are struggling to move. The organization will initially focus on transporting medicines, tarpaulins and blankets, he added.

Some medical supplies have already run out. The World Health Organization warned on Sunday that hospitals were running out of medical oxygen because trucks couldn’t transport it from factories, due to road disruptions and a lack of drivers willing to make the journeys.

Ukraine was in the midst of a polio vaccination campaign for young children after a toddler was paralyzed by the virus in October, the first case in more than five years. The campaign began on February 1 but was halted when fighting broke out.

WHO airlifts trauma care supplies to neighboring Poland and has a supply warehouse in Ukraine. Doctors Without Borders is also working to secure safe routes for medical supplies across the country, said Kate White, emergency manager for the international aid organization.

“We can send kits to the country,” said Jarno Habicht, WHO representative in Ukraine. “But are they getting to where they are needed most in the healthcare system, that is the question.”

These difficulties are creating dangerous shortages of drugs such as insulin, according to several groups working in the country. “What we are hearing from our contacts in hospitals and health facilities in Ukraine is that there is a significant shortage of insulin at the moment,” said Ms White of Doctors Without Borders. “For insulin-dependent diabetic patients, this is a significant concern.”

Novo Nordisk, a major insulin supplier, said deliveries from its warehouse were halted due to a shortage of driving staff. “We are doing everything we can to get medicines to patients who need them, either through pharmacies or through humanitarian organizations,” a company spokeswoman said.

Health officials and aid workers have also warned that the crowded conditions faced by refugees will likely lead to an increase in Covid-19 infections. “Infectious diseases ruthlessly exploit the conditions created by war,” said Bruce Aylward, senior adviser to the WHO director-general. This is because of increased transmission, but also because lack of health care means a higher number of preventable deaths.

This story was published from a news agency feed with no text edits

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