OTTAWA — Ukraine's agriculture minister has told Ottawa that Russia is raiding its grain stores and selling Ukrainian wheat covertly on the international market.
Mykola Solskyi told the House of Commons agriculture committee that 500,000 to 600,000 tonnes of Ukrainian wheat have been stolen by the Russians.
Speaking via videolink to MPs, he said Russia was mixing stolen Ukrainian wheat with Russian wheat and exporting it covertly with fabricated documents, including via the Crimean port of Sevastopol.
"They are now taking this grain to Russia. They mix it with Russian grain and claim that the origin of this grain is Russia," he said.
The minister of agrarian policy and food said Ukraine tracked cargo ships containing its wheat to Syria.
"We were able to turn these ships away from Egypt where they were originally heading, so they were diverted and went to Syria," he said. "We have no allies in Syria."
Solskyi called on Canada to apply sanctions on ship owners who exported the stolen grain, as well as those buying and selling it.
Ukraine's silos contain grain destined for global markets including in the Middle East and Africa but the embattled country is unable to export it via ports such as Odesa.
Aid agencies have warned that Russia's blocking of Ukraine's ports could lead to starvation in the developing world.
"Due to blockade of Ukrainian sea ports … 20 millions tonnes of grain are not on the world market," Solskyi said.
Usually Ukraine would be exporting 5-6 million tonnes per month, he said, but in March it exported only 200,000 tonnes.
Ukraine is one of the world's biggest exporters of grain with many countries, including Lebanon and Bangladesh, relying on it to supply wheat, a staple food.
The Ukrainian minister said some of its upcoming harvest could be ruined because the war-torn country has storage facilities for only 60 million tonnes of wheat, far less than usual.
Many silos were already full because of Russia's blockade of the ports.
Some silos were destroyed by the Russians or were in territories under Russian control. He said Russia has also fired missiles at bridges and roads used to transport grain.
The minister asked Canada to provide temporary storage facilities for its grain to stop the next harvest rotting.
At a press conference on Thursday, committee chair Kody Blois reported earlier evidence from a Ukrainian MP that 13 per cent of fields have been seeded with landmines by the Russians or contain unexploded shells.
The agriculture committee is carrying out an inquiry into global food security, and has been hearing evidence about the effect of the war on Ukraine's ability to plant and export crops.
Blois said the committee also heard on Monday that Russia has been stealing Ukrainian wheat and selling it via Syria, a country allied with Vladimir Putin.
Ukraine's minister of agrarian policy and food told the committee that Ukrainian farmers in Russian-controlled areas were being threatened with having their harvests taken from them if they did not comply with Russian edicts.
But he said in parts of the country controlled by Ukraine, its farmers "are not giving up, they are working hard every day."
Farmers are cultivating fields "just a few hundred metres from where the bombings are."
The war has led to droves of Ukrainians being displaced without jobs, he explained. Ukraine has asked Canada to send seedlings for fruit trees that people driven from their homes and family farms can cultivate.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 9, 2022.
Marie Woolf, The Canadian Press