Ukrainians Are Facing a Food and Medicine Supply Crisis

My daughter turned 25 just a few days back. She has the entire world at her fingertips.

She has studied at a university in the Czech Republic, can speak several European languages and has volunteered with a childrens’ school in France.

We have friends in Europe who would be happy to take her in. She could have a wonderful future. However, she said this week that this is not her path.

She is preparing to abandon Ukraine like many others, and instead she will risk her life to defend Kamyanske on the Dnipro.

It’s difficult to write this article. My duty as a father is to protect my daughter against the horrors of war. However, I must be objective and honest in my duties as a journalist under martial law. This is a terrible predicament that breaks many Ukrainians’ hearts and is the most glaring example of the humanitarian and military crisis that has afflicted our country.

Empty Shelves

Kamyanske is located in the middle of Ukraine and is right next to Dnipro, the regional capital.

We don’t have any bombing yet. The area is safe for civilians. Despite being far from the Russian bombardment, there are still air raid alerts that sound several times per day. You can feel the cold, inexorable pressure and fear of war.

Locals ran to grab food from supermarket shelves as Russia invaded. Fast, fresh meat, canned foods, cereals, and pasta disappeared from supermarket shelves.

People in Ukraine lack the resources to provide substantial food supplies. At most 60% of the population is living in poverty. Monthly pensions before the war, on average, did not exceed €100-150 per person. Very low wages are paid to those who work in the public and private sector, as well as organisations and enterprises that are funded by the national and local state budgets.

This social division can also been seen on supermarket shelves in Kamyanske. The majority of food shortages were visible in the supermarkets and smaller shops. By contrast, in the town’s supermarkets designed for more affluent consumers, it has still been possible to buy expensive varieties of meat, sausages, butter, cereals and other products.

Local authorities are trying to calm panic over food scarcity. A local poultry farm has been providing free chicken to make soup for the past week in various parts of the city. Authorities have been forced to limit the number of soup kits — chicken carcasses from which the meat has already been removed — a person can take.

After two weeks of war, panic-buying frenzy slowed down. But, there’s still the threat of food insecurity. Maryna Gurska is the director of humanitarian affairs at Kamyanske’s city council. openDemocracyPeople fleeing eastern Ukraine are now arriving in the city, causing further chaos. “People come without things and any products, we try to provide them with everything they need. But this also affects the resources available to the city,” Gurska says.

She said that public concern over food availability is also caused by the unusually empty shelves at stores. This, along with ATB, a large budget grocery chain, transferring part of its supplies to Ukraine’s military, has resulted in emptier shelves.

And while Gurska assures me there are no hungry people in the city, there is a need for children’s goods, cereals and the like.

“When people see that something is running out, they try to immediately buy up the leftovers,” Gurska explains. “Supermarkets simply don’t have time to fill the shelves with products that are currently in stock.

Medicine Shortages

Just like the country’s food systems, Ukraine’s healthcare system is facing similar problems amid war and a global pandemic, as notedRecently published in medical journal The Lancet. COVID was active in Ukraine on the eve Russian invasion. Since public authorities have stopped publishing data on COVID, the current COVID rates remain unknown. Doctors confirm that severe cases of the virus are still being treated in hospitals.

COVID, or any other mild or moderately severe illness, can be fatal. Those who have been affected by it must find their own medicines. Bandages and haemostatic medications disappeared from pharmacies at the beginning of the war. So did cold medicines, painkillers, and antibiotics.

People bought medicines in panic and sent other materials to hospitals as reserves in case of attack. Additional medical supplies were also needed by the military. Authorities are now forced to resort to extreme measures and call on pharmacy owners to retrieve the drugs from their warehouses in order to ensure supply.

Problem is, in a city such as Kamyanske there was never a need to have large quantities of medication. Now, because of hostilities the logistics chain for medicine delivery is disrupted. Authorities as well as pharmacies are trying to build new supply lines.

It is especially difficult for those who need insulin. It is literally a matter for life and death for many. Even with a prescription, it can be extremely difficult to get insulin. Volunteers or the military attempt to deliver insulin and other drugs to people who really need it. These deliveries are not always possible.

“The situation and assortment in pharmacies has improved a bit, but there is a shortage of other drugs, for example, those related to the regulation of thyroid hormones,” explains Natalya Ktitareva, a secretary of the Kamyanske city council who oversees healthcare.

“The main problem is that our system developed in peacetime. We simply cannot imagine what stocks of dressing materials, haemostatic drugs will be needed if hostilities begin here,” she says. “We see that in other cities there are a lot of wounded, including among civilians. But existing supplies may not be enough if the scale of shelling, destruction and injury is catastrophic.”

According to Ktitareva, the influx of refugees from eastern Ukraine has created an additional burden on the city’s healthcare system. Many people have severe colds after being forced to hide from the cold basements and shelling.

Ktitareva describes Kamyanske’s access to medicine and medical care as “normal in wartime conditions, in comparison with cities that have been shelled and bombed”.

An Exacerbated Economic Crisis

The rising prices are one of the major challenges in providing food and medicine for people. The official exchange rate of the Ukrainian hryvnia has been fixed since the beginning of the war. However, it is impossible to purchase currency at that rate. It can only be traded at this rate. On the black market, the dollar exchange rates have jumped to nearly 40-44 hryvnias and the euro to 50 hryvnias. This is 50% more than it was before war.

The sharp rise in prices in shops, pharmacies, and other places has caused a dramatic increase in exchange rates, even in Kamyanske. This has caused panic among the people. However, if the authorities can manage to control price increases on food items and other daily goods made in Ukraine, then the situation for medicine will be even more complicated.

Many drugs are imported into the country from which they are manufactured. As a result, prices have risen on the wholesale markets where they can be purchased by pharmacies. Ukrainian pharmacies are forced to sell drugs at higher prices because of this.

The shops that sell household appliances, clothing, or other goods, which are mainly imported from elsewhere, are also closing. Many owners of retail businesses fear that their property will be destroyed or looted, as has happened in other areas of the country.

Large retail chains that sell household appliances and building materials announced the sale of warehouse stocks to help save some stocks. However, even this might not be enough to stop a shortage of goods once the war is over. Even if such goods become available, they will likely be too costly for those living in poorer areas.

Protecting the poorest members of society

The crisis we are witnessing in Ukraine raises the question: How does the market economy protect those most vulnerable, especially during conflict that affects a country as a whole?

Ukraine’s model of social assistance, introduced in recent years, involved the provision of various kinds of cash subsidies and additional payments to people who need it most, through state institutions. This model is not working effectively due to rapid price rises and a shortage in goods. The current situation means that the poorest people of Ukraine cannot afford enough food or medicine.

Europe and the international communities should provide humanitarian aid to Ukraine. However, the international community and Europe should provide humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. sowing campaignIt will have swift-paced consequences if Ukrainian farmers are disrupted by fighting. And it will be the poorest people living in Ukraine’s cities — who do not have their own land to grow at least some food for themselves — that will suffer the most.