Ukraine and Russia held the first direct grain talks since March in a bid to break an impasse over grain exports that has seen food prices soar and millions around the globe face hunger.

The high-stake meeting, held in Istanbul on Wednesday, July 13, and also involving UN and Turkish officials, broke up after slightly more than three hours without any immediate signs on a breakthrough. The Turkish defence ministry issued a one-statement sentence saying the talks had “ended” and offering no hint as to whether progress had been achieved.

But the stakes could not be higher for tens of millions of people facing the threat of starvation in African and other poorest nations because of the battles engulfing one of the main grain producing regions of the world. Ukrainian officials said at least five people died in Russian shelling on the region surrounding the Black Sea port city of Mykolaiv.


“You never get used to war. It’s dreadful and scary,” 60-year-old Lyubov Mozhayeva said in the partially destroyed frontline city of Bakhmut. Ukraine is a vital exporter of wheat and grains such as barley and maize. It has also supplied nearly half of all the sunflower oil traded on global markets.

But shipments across the Black Sea have been blockaded by Russian warships and mines Kyiv has laid to avert a feared amphibious assault.

The Istanbul negotiations are being complicated by growing suspicions that Russia is trying to export grain it has stolen from Ukrainian farmers in regions under its control. Russian authorities in Ukraine’s southern region of Kherson on Wednesday, July 13 countered with accusations that Kyiv’s forces were deliberately burning crops and mining fields.

U.S. space agency data released last week showed 22% of Ukraine’s farmland falling under Russian control since the February 24 invasion.

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