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Ukraine Seeks New Grain Shipments to Commemorate 1930s Famine

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(Bloomberg) — The Ukrainian government is working with supporter nations to fund new shipments of grain around the anniversary of the 1930s Holodomor famine — a symbolic push that comes amid discussions to extend a deal that allows grain exports from its war-stricken ports. 

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Officials in Kyiv are seeking funding and support for shipments that would be timed for the late November commemoration of the famine. 

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The plans are at an early stage and it’s unclear how many ships might be involved and how much it would cost, according to officials familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified discussing the negotiations. 

The shipments will be be targeted specifically for poorer nations, one person said, with the US and Canada among the countries considering taking part in the funding exercise. White House officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

“The right to food is one of the basic human rights. Ukrainians know from their own tragic experience what happens when an entire nation is deprived of it,” Andriy Yermak, the Ukrainian president’s chief of staff, told Bloomberg News. Yermak said the hope was to provide grain to at least 5 million people by the summer of 2023, with the government in Kyiv providing logistical support including guidance on purchasing grain from the market, especially via smaller producers. 

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Russia’s invasion in late February sent shock waves through the agriculture sector, including by stranding grain that was primarily shipped from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports before the war. A deal in July that allowed shipments to resume is due to expire at the end of this week, with Turkey and the United Nations among those in talks to try and extend it. 

Shipments tied to the man-made famine would carry deep symbolism. The Ukrainian sense of national identity was sharpened in the 1930s when Soviet policies punishing farmers in the republic who resisted mandates to collectivize produced the Holodomor, which killed an estimated 7 million people there. 

Ukraine’s government is asking the world to recognize the tragedy as an act of genocide, while Russia claims the famine resulted from drought. Ukraine’s famine was kept out of official history until 1991, when the country of 41 million regained independence.

The expiring grain deal is hanging over Group of 20 talks this week in Bali, Indonesia. President Joe Biden has said the US is looking to head off shocks caused by fuel and food shortages.

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