Wheat grain is loaded into the cargo vessel Mezhdurechensk before its departure for the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don (Picture: Reuters)
But a more insidious war-time theft has been kept under wraps, until now.
Farmers in occupied Zaporizhzhia reported Russian military confiscating their crops just five days after the invasion on February 24, 2022.
Map showing routes of grain exports from Russian-occupied areas in Ukraine to Russia (Picture: Metro.co.uk)
A new report by Global Rights Compliance focuses on the occupied Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia regions, where the first mass extraction of grain was documented in mid-March last year.
Maps and locations exclusively shared with Metro.co.uk point to how disused railways in the two regions were refurbished to transport the stolen goods.
Russian agricultural companies like Kalmichanka, which carried out works on the old infrastructure, have been named in the ‘Agriculture Weaponised’ report.
Images shared on Telegram and verified by investigators show officials from the Russia-aligned Luhansk People’s Republic boasting about the thousands of tonnes that would be loaded onto wagons at the seized Starobilsky facility.
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Aftermath of failed Black Sea Grain Initiative
Russia’s withdrawal from the Black Sea Grain Initiative in July 2023 means that vital grain exports from Ukraine – often hailed as ‘the breadbasket of the world’ – are now blocked to some of the most food insecure nations.
The deal was negotiated in July 2022 between Turkey, the United Nations and Russia, but not renewed this year.
Since then, Russia has been carrying out targeted attacks against Black Sea port infrastructure, destroying some 60,000 tonnes of grain.
They would then be transport via the refurbished Luhansk Railway to export ports controlled by Russia.
These include locations in Berdiansk (Ukraine), Sevastopol and Kerch (Crimea), and Rostov-on-Don (Russia).
Analysis based on satellite images show that two companies in Russian-controlled areas, Starobilsky Elevator and State Grain Operator, extracted Ukrainian grain for international export.
The speed at which Russia targeted and took over Ukraine’s grain infrastructure in these regions speaks to a highly coordinated level of pre-planning, investigators warned.
The report highlights multiple convoys of vehicles seen carrying grain towards the Crimean Peninsula in the weeks following the invasion.
GPS trackers on farmers’ stolen trucks show them driving through Crimea and into Russia.
Trains carrying grain along the railways from June 2022 were decorated in the liveries and the logo of state-owned freight service provider, Russian Railway.
Job adverts posted on Telegram by Russian logistics companies, and analysed by investigators, also show they could not hire enough drivers in time to transport the vast quantities of stolen Ukrainian grain.
Russia’s State Grain Operator, under which multiple private Ukrainian companies were forcibly incorporated after the invasion, claims to have the capacity to export 12,000 tonnes of grain per day, equivalent to four million tonnes a year.
Partner at Global Rights Compliance, Catriona Murdoch, stressed that the report reveals ‘an insidious backdrop’ through which Russia has sought to dismantle Ukraine’s agricultural outputs, ruin livelihoods, and create a global food crisis.
She said: ‘Russia does this through systematic extraction of grain; transporting it to occupied areas inside Ukraine or cross-border into Russia; and then relentlessly attacking and destroying grain infrastructure and Ukrainian ports.’
In addition to looting grain and transportation it by land, extractions via the Black Sea were also identified.
In December 2021 and February 2022, before the invasion began, three 170-metre grain carrier ships were purchased by Crane Marine Contractors, the report said.
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An insidious war-time theft has been kept under wraps, until now.