The first vessel carrying grain from Ukraine to conflict-torn Yemen since the war started in Europe departed a Black Sea port on Tuesday, the U.N. food agency said. The move is set to help ease one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
The World Food Program said the MV Karteria, with 37,000 metric tons of wheat grain on board, left the Ukrainian port of Yuzhny. The WFP-chartered vessel will stop first in Turkey, where the grain will be milled into flour before sailing to Yemen, where over 17 million people are struggling with acute hunger.
“The war in Ukraine has been the last straw in Yemen against a backdrop of prolonged conflict. … It is paramount to get commodities flowing back into the country and especially grain — for humanitarian and commercial purposes,” said Richard Ragan, WFP’s representative in Yemen.
The U.N. agency said the grain will provide a 50-kilogram (110-pound) bag of wheat flour to nearly 4 million people that will last for about a month and will help the WFP address immediate gaps in assistance.
The Russian war in Ukraine, which started in February, has been deeply felt in Yemen, where a long-running conflict created one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises and pushed millions of Yemenis to the brink of famine.
Yemen, the poorest Arab country, depends on direct imports of wheat flour — a key staple in Yemenis’ diet — from Russia and Ukraine. An estimated 46% of Yemen’s 2021 wheat imports came from Ukraine and Russia, according to the WFP.
Yemen’s brutal civil war began in 2014, when when Iran-backed Houthi rebels seized the capital of Sanaa and much of northern Yemen and forced the government into exile. A Saudi-led coalition entered the war early the next year to try and restore the internationally recognized government to power.
More than 150,000 people have been killed, including over 14,500 civilians, in the conflict that turned into a regional proxy war between rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran.