October 7, 2022

Satellite Data Shows How Russia Has Destroyed Ukrainian Grain


The need for stable grain storage infrastructure in Ukraine is acute. Grains and other crops often need to be stored in very specific conditions in order to avoid spoiling. Any variation in factors such as temperature or moisture can drastically cut down on the length of time the crops stay good. According to the report, even if a storage structure appears to be mostly intact, even minor damage can make crops go bad.

“In the case of, say, hospitals or schools that we’ve looked at in previous reports, those facilities can actually sometimes withstand more damage than a grain silo, which is aluminum, which is fragile,” says Raymond.

The damage done to Ukraine’s grain supply, in addition to the effects of the Russian blockade, has particularly damning implications for countries in the Global South, where Ukrainian wheat comprises a substantial portion of grain imports. Countries like Egypt, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Yemen all rely heavily on Ukrainian grain. About 40 percent of the World Food Programme’s emergency wheat supply comes from Ukraine.

And while it is unclear whether grain storage facilities were specifically targeted by Russian forces, or suffered from collateral damage of other strikes (most of the damaged facilities were near transportation infrastructure), Matthew Steinhelfer, deputy assistant secretary at the US State Department, says that attacking the country’s food and agriculture infrastructure could violate international law.

“Not only is Russia exacerbating the global security crisis, but this unjustified war and their attacks on these facilities—destroying, damaging, and degrading to the point of compromising the stocks and potentially any future ability to continue to store in those silos—is a great concern,” Steinhelfer says. “Intentional destruction of these facilities may constitute a war crime.”

Satellite imagery has featured prominently in the war in Ukraine. The Conflict Observatory previously used open source images and satellite imagery to identify filtration camps in Ukraine.

Steinhelfer hopes the report informs conversations at the upcoming UN General Assembly. “Whether these attacks were indiscriminate or intentional, the legal status of this behavior is the same,” says Raymond. “A systematic attack on a country’s ability to produce and store food can constitute a clear war crime. Full stop.”

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