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Ukraine’s grain exports continue to fall significantly behind last year’s volumes, with 13.4M tonnes exported to date, compared to 18.3M tonnes in the same period the previous year, according to data from the country’s agriculture ministry reported by World Grain.

Ukrainian officials expected a harvest of 79M tonnes of grain and oilseeds in 2023/24 with an exportable surplus of 50M tonnes, the 4 December report said.

Prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Ukraine shipped 9% of global wheat exports, 15% of maize and 44% of sunflower oil.

Meanwhile, United Nations (UN) officials were trying to revive the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI), which Russia withdrew from in July a year after it had been brokered by the UN and Turkey, the report said.

Since then, Ukraine had launched a humanitarian corridor for agricultural exports that has enabled the shipment of more than 4M tonnes, World Grain wrote.

The new route runs along Ukraine’s southwest Black Sea coast in Romanian waters and toward Turkey.

Against this backdrop, Ukraine needed more air defences to protect grain export routes and regions bordering Russia, the country’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was quoted as saying in a Reuters report on 26 November.

Speaking at an international summit on food security in Kyiv on 25 November, Zelenskiy’s address followed an overnight drone attack on Ukraine by Russia.

Zelenskiy said Ukraine’s foreign partners would provide vessels to accompany convoys of cargo ships from Ukraine’s ports to guarantee their security.

In addition, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen pledged support in a letter to Zelenskiy that she shared on social media platform X, saying the commission would provide €50M (US$53.96M) for “quick repairs and upgrades of infrastructure in Ukraine’s ports”.

Zelenskiy was quoted as saying Kyiv hoped to solve its air defence shortage through new supplies from partners and increasing its own production capacity, an area where there had been progress.