World food prices surge to record high
Worldwide food prices hit a record increase of 12.6% in March, compared to February, as exports from Russia and Ukraine – the world’s largest grain producers – are largely stuck in those countries. UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation said these highest levels ever were influenced by the spread of the war. World wheat prices rose 19.7%, compounded by concerns over US crops, while corn prices rose 19.1% to a record high, along with barley and sorghum prices. The Index of the lists of vegetable oils marks + 23.2% for the prices of sunflower oil, of which Ukraine is the main world exporter. According to FAO, sugar marks + 6.7% compared to February, with more than + 20% compared to March 2021. Meat increased by 4.8%, reaching an all-time high, driven by rising pork prices due to a shortage in Western Europe. International poultry prices are also consolidating on the rise, hand in hand with lower supplies from major exporting countries following outbreaks of avian flu. The FAO index of prices of dairy products increased by 2.6%, reaching + 23.6% compared to March 2021, with the prices of butter and milk powder soaring due to the surge in imports for short- and long-term deliveries, mainly from Asian markets. FAO said feed prices could rise as much as 20%, which, in turn, could cause malnutrition in countries across the Middle East, Africa, Asia and elsewhere. In parts of Central and West Africa, the war has already exacerbated a fragile food ecosystem.
Pledge to speed up Ukraine’s application to join EU
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the civilian deaths in the Ukrainian town of Bucha showed the “cruel face” of Russia’s army and pledged to speed Ukraine’s bid to become a member of the European Union. During a visit to Bucha, where forensic specialists started to exhume bodies from a mass grave, Ms Von der Leyen looked visibly moved by what she saw in the town where Ukrainian officials say hundreds of civilians were killed by Russian forces. Russia has called allegations a “monstrous forgery” aimed at denigrating the Russian army. Saying the EU could never match the sacrifice of Ukraine, Ms Von der Leyen offered it a speedier start to its bid for membership of the bloc. Handing Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky a questionnaire which will form a starting point for a decision on membership, she said: “It will not, as usual, be a matter of years to form this opinion but I think a matter of weeks.” Mr Zelensky told the news conference he would come back with answers in a week. Ms Von der Leyen’s trip to Kyiv was aimed at offering Zelensky moral and financial support. Josep Borrell, the EU’s chief diplomat, said he hoped the EU could allocate a further €500m to Ukraine for arms purchases in a couple of days.
Over 50 killed in Russian rocket strike on Ukrainian station
At least 50 people, including children, were killed on Friday in a Russian rocket attack on a railroad station in eastern Ukraine, where civilians were trying to evacuate to safer parts of the country. Graphic photographs provided by Ukrainian officials showed bodies strewn on the ground next to scattered luggage and charred vehicles. The remains of a large rocket, with the words “for our children” in Russian painted on it, was also seen on the ground next to the station. About 4,000 civilians were in and around the station at the time of the attack – many of them women and children heeding calls to leave the region amid warnings of Russia launching a full-scale offensive in the country’s east. President Zelensky said in a statement on Facebook that a Tochka-U short-range ballistic missile was used in the deadly strike. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the involvement of Russian forces in the attack had already been ruled out by the Russian Ministry of Defence, based on the type of missile cited by Zelensky.
‘Civilians burned alive in Izium’
Ukrainian police have reported on Facebook that in the village of Husarivka, in the Kharkiv region, the Russians had set up a torture chamber in which people – including a child – were burned alive after being tortured. Following the liberation of Husarivka on April 4, the police are now documenting the crimes of the Russian army in this village in the Izium district of the Kharkiv region. According to the investigation, the examination of the bodies revealed traces of prolonged abuse and torture. “People were burned alive. A child was tortured,” they said.
UK will send anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons to Kyiv
The British government will send new weapons – anti-tank and anti-aircraft – worth £100 million to Kyiv in response to the attack attributed today to Russian forces against the Kramatorsk station in Ukraine Oriental. Prime Minister Boris Johnson himself made the announcement after a summit in London with the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, calling the attack a testimony of “the precipice” into which Vladimir Putin fell.
Slovakia supplies S-300 anti-air defense system
Slovakia has supplied Ukraine with an S-300 air defense system, Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger announced. He wrote on Twitter, “I would like to confirm that Slovakia has supplied Ukraine with an S-300 air defense system,” adding, “The Ukrainian nation is courageously defending its country and us as well. It is our duty to help, not stand still and ignore the loss of life caused by the aggression of Russia.”
EU extraordinary summit on May 30-31
The extraordinary summit of European leaders will be held on May 30 and 31, EU Council president Charles Michel announced on Twitter. The topics on the agenda, he explained, will be “defence, energy and Ukraine”.
Putin triggers fears of nuclear war
Russian President Vladimir Putin stoked concerns on Friday when he reportedly took his “nuclear football” to a funeral at a Moscow cathedral. The London daily, The Sun, reported he showed up at the Christ the Saviour Cathedral to pay his respects to Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who is said have died of COVID-19. Putin walked in clutching red roses, but what caught the attention of viewers was the apparent “secret nuclear briefcase” in the hands of a man wearing a suit and walking directly behind the Russian leader. The case is believed to contain launch data for the Kremlin’s strategic missiles. Putin had placed his country’s nuclear weapons “on high alert” following the start of the February 24 invasion of Ukraine.
‘Ukraine has ordered antidote to chemical weapons’ – WSJ
The American humanitarian organisation Direct Relief has told the Wall Street Journal that, at the request of the Ukrainian Minister of Health, it sent to Kyiv about 220,000 vials of a drug that could be used to counter-act the effects of chemical weapons such as nerve agents. This is atropine which is used to increase heart rate or reduce mucus secretions in the lungs or airways. In practice, it is able to block the effects of poisoning caused by nerve agents. It is the same drug distributed to healthcare professionals in Syria in 2017.
EU freezes €30 billion from Russia
EU member-states have, so far, frozen assets worth €29.5 billion of Russian and Belarusian oligarchs. The assets include boats, helicopters, real estate and works of art, for a value of almost € 6.7 billion. In addition, transactions for approximately €196 billion have been blocked.