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Food insecurity is another major issue caused by Russia invading Ukraine


Ukrainian and Russian delegations enter peace talks again today while the deadly bombings continue across Ukraine. Maryan Zablotskyy is a member of the Ukrainian Parliament. He told me the death toll in the city of Mariupol is likely even higher than reported.

MARYAN ZABLOTSKYY: The number of civilians killed there is much higher than that of the soldiers. For some reason, there is extreme anger of Russians towards that city, even though - at least before the war, being one of the most pro-Russian cities in the whole of Ukraine. More than 2,000 civilians were killed in Mariupol. And this is only that what we have managed to count.

MARTIN: Zablotskyy says not all the deaths are from direct shelling. There are reports children have died from a lack of water. He says the capital Kyiv has just two weeks' worth of food and water left and even fewer medical supplies.

ZABLOTSKYY: The focus is mostly currently not on food but supply and medicine, of which there is a significant shortage, and the supplies for the army. So I am hoping to bring bulletproof vests, thermal imaging scopes and daily clothing for the soldiers.

MARTIN: How did this fall to you? I mean, can you explain the supply lines that had to be set up to get these - this critical kind of equipment to the military and what your role is in this?

ZABLOTSKYY: Well, I cannot go much into the detail, but many members of Parliament have become a natural point of contact. If somebody wants to bring something and they need clearance at the border, members of Parliament, as public individuals, are the point at which they can reach to do something. Plus, in our capacity, this allows us to reach a lot of individuals and businesses and make official and unofficial contacts with different suppliers to arrange some supplies.

MARTIN: You talk about the shortage of medical supplies. Is that throughout the country?

ZABLOTSKYY: That is definitely throughout the country. And of course, the areas where there is most fighting, it is the worst for understandable reasons. So there is a long list of medical supplies necessary. Of course, it ranges from scalpels to painkillers and to many different medicine for the people who are wounded.

MARTIN: How much does the closure of the Port of Odesa have to do with the food insecurity right now?

ZABLOTSKYY: Well, quite a bit but mostly not for Ukraine. We exported around 80% of what we were growing in terms of grains and sunflower towards the international markets. And you can see that the prices for wheat are skyrocketing. The problem is that Russia has knocked off Ukraine, which is one of the major suppliers of grain to international markets. And this year, for sure, food prices all over the globe, including United States, will be as high as never. The inflation for food products will definitely be in the double digits. I would not be surprised if it will be over 50% or more.

MARTIN: I want to ask about international assistance right now. Separate from the more-than-$1-billion security assistance coming from the U.S., President Biden also signed a spending bill that includes $13.6 billion in aid to Ukraine. Do you have any idea at this point how that money would be used and distributed?

ZABLOTSKYY: First of all, we extremely appreciate here in Ukraine the support that the American people and American taxpayers are providing to Ukraine. And Americans need to know that this money do go an extremely long way here, and plus, people desperately do need it. So $14 billion is roughly 10% of our GDP, so it will allow us to survive for at least a couple of months. And plus, a lot of that assistance is for arms. Unfortunately, we think that Russia will not stop its attack, and we will be kindly asking, most likely in the near future, to help our citizens evade more pain - so I'm pretty sure that we will need further humanitarian assistance to alleviate human suffering and to continue fighting of the Russians.

MARTIN: I'm sure you have seen these videos from around the country of Ukrainians protesting the Russian presence. They are calling for an end of the war, to great risk to themselves by just showing up. I wonder if you could reflect on the level of the Ukrainian resistance, not just from the military but from what you have seen from regular people.

ZABLOTSKYY: Well, it's our nation-building (ph) moment. There's absolutely no way that Russia can capture our country. It just doesn't make any point when 95% of the population do not want to see them here. And these extremely brave people, they show that. Of course, they do not have guns within them, but they show extreme courage. They take risks. And we know that many of them are eventually jailed. But it's an extremely good point because it shows again to the Russians that even if they destroyed the military in some city, even if they capture, there is no way out for them. They cannot control the area of the people that they thought would meet them with flowers. So it is clear that Russia cannot win this war.

MARTIN: Maryan Zablotskyy, a member of the Ukrainian Parliament, the finance committee. Thank you so much for your time.

ZABLOTSKYY: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.