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London Eye: Russia aims at Ukraine's lifeline

London Eye: Russia aims at Ukraine's lifeline
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By Sanjay Suri  Apr 26, 2022 7:03:47 PM IST (Published)

More than two months of Russia's war against Ukraine, the invading forces are now targeting railway stations to disrupt food and military supply. The ramifications of the latest Russian strategy to target Ukraine's lifeline could have wider collateral damage, writes Sanjay Suri.

The latest Russian attacks on railway stations in Ukraine are no less than an attempt to cut off Ukraine’s lifeline. The city of Lviv close to the Polish border has been the most promising way out for millions in Ukraine seeking to escape the Russian invasion that has targeted Ukrainian civilians around the country.

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This new bombing opens a new front in an attack on civilians. The attack on a plant supplying electricity to overhead lines at Krasne near Lviv was aimed clearly at choking the railway network, the only practical means of travel left around Ukraine following the closure of air space. Travel by road has been a difficult and a more dangerous option than the railway network has been so far.
Lviv is well connected with the capital Kyiv by about a dozen trains a day. Escape by this railway line has been a lifeline for well over a million Ukrainians, of whom an estimated 200,000 are still in Lviv, which otherwise has a population of about 700,000. The new attacks on the railway stations are threatening to close the most promising escape route.
These are threatening also to choke a lifeline for essential goods. Much of Ukraine has been kept going through more than two months of Russian attacks with the supply of food and goods through the railway services.
Food could become the next Russian weapon to target civilians. Russian troops themselves have been widely reported to have run short of food and essential supplies. This together with what Russia has found to be unexpectedly fierce Ukrainian military resistance has been a factor in slowing the Russian advance.
Exports hit
The movement of food by the railways to Ukraine’s towns and cities is vital to Kyiv particularly. But the railway attacks are aimed as a blow to Ukraine’s strong agricultural exports. In 2021 Ukraine exported more than 27 billion dollars worth of agricultural goods. Of this, about 8 billion dollars of agricultural goods were exported to the European Union.
Ukraine is the world’s fourth-largest exporter of corn. It is also a strong producer of sunflower seed and meal, wheat, barley and rapeseed. Much of this production is in the east, which has seen the worst of the Russian invasion. Much of that has begun to change already — agricultural fields do not thrive in a warfield. More and more Ukrainian farmers have come under pressure to produce essential foods for the domestic market in place of the push to exports in the pre-invasion world.
Farmers are reported already to be switching to the production of cereals, buckwheat, peas and other foods for daily domestic consumption. But these foods too need to be moved around within the country, and the railways have been the means to bring food to the table in Ukrainian homes.
Now the bombing of railway stations has come as a sharp warning that both the domestic movement and the import of essential foods could be threatened should Ukraine have to rely on imports — and if the invasion goes on much longer it inevitably will.
Ukraine has not forgotten its history of food shortages. About six to eight million died in the famine in the old Soviet Union of 1930-1933, of which the majority were Ukrainians. That famine had resulted from a brutal diktat from Joseph Stalin against those he saw as landowners living in relative prosperity. As it turned out the more prosperous Ukraine paid a heavy price.
Through that famine not all food production ended; the killer, as with many famines, was the difficulty — or the refusal — in transporting food to homes where it was needed. Moscow has had a lethal familiarity with food and the transportation of food as a weapon of war. And in Ukraine.
The casualties from the latest Russian bombardment of railway stations in Ukraine are serious; by immediate accounts these left at least five dead and 18 wounded. The Russian attacks on civilians have killed many more than that.
The Ukraine military has said the attacks on the railway stations in central and western regions have been an attempt to disrupt the supply of military equipment coming in from abroad. These are not the first attacks on railway stations. Last month at least 50 civilians were killed in a bomb attack on the railway station in Kramatorsk in the east.
The collateral damage from these attacks threatens to become far wider, and to hit many more civilians than those killed at these railway stations.
— London Eye is a weekly column by CNBC-TV18’s Sanjay Suri, which gives a peek at business-as-unusual from London and around.
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