Arvin Donley editor of World Grain

Arvin Donley, World Grain editor.


KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI, US – One of mankind’s greatest strengths is its capacity for resiliency in the face of adversity. A glowing example of this is taking place in Ukraine, where grain exports have recovered to near pre-war levels despite Russia’s relentless efforts to damage the country’s grain exporting infrastructure.

Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022 and implemented a naval blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, which virtually shut off grain shipments from one of the world’s largest exporters for the first five months of the conflict. With the United Nations and Turkey brokering a deal between the warring nations, the blockade was lifted in July 2022, and for the next 12 months grain ships departed the Black Sea ports at a steady pace and grain export figures surged higher. But in July 2023, Russia reinstated the blockade and ramped up its drone and missile strikes of Ukraine’s grain storage and handling infrastructure, including targeting terminals on the Danube River, where more grain exports had been redirected to counter Russia’s efforts to shut down Black Sea shipments.

How Ukraine’s grain industry countered this escalation by Russia over the last 12 months has been nothing short of remarkable. Before the conflict erupted, around 90% of Ukraine grain was exported through its Black Sea ports, but since then it has developed more routes utilizing river, rail and truck transportation.

The country also shrewdly altered its sea route. Under the grain deal, cargo ships traveled to and from Ukrainian ports along a 357-mile corridor through the middle of the Black Sea to the Bosphorus Strait. After that deal ended, Ukraine last fall established a new temporary export corridor, which hugs the western coastline in waters too shallow for Russian submarines to operate.

Before Russia launched its full-scale invasion, Ukraine exported more than 60 million tonnes of grain per year, accounting for 10% of the global market. It is forecast to ship 56 million tonnes of grain in the 2024-25 marketing year, in the Ukraine Ministry of Agriculture’s latest projection. Those are extraordinary numbers, all things considered.

Perhaps the most inspiring example of perseverance involves Nibulon, Ukraine’s second largest grain exporter, whose founder and chief executive officer, Oleksiy Vadatursky, died in July 2022 when his home was struck by a Russian missile that killed both he and his wife. Under the leadership of his son, Andriy Vadatursky, who in an interview with World Grain shortly after his parents’ death vowed to continue his father’s legacy of success, Nibulon has maintained its status as an agribusiness powerhouse. Prior to the invasion, Nibulon was exporting nearly 4 million tonnes of grain per year. After seeing exports plummet in the early stages of the war, Nibulon’s shipments have rebounded, and the company recently said exports for the current marketing year are expected to be between 3.2 million and 3.4 million tonnes. It also recently announced the implementation of a large-scale modernization of its grain elevator network.

That Ukraine’s grain industry has remained a viable supplier to the global market while under siege is a testament to its resolve. While it’s difficult to predict the direction this war will take, what’s certain is the Ukrainian grain industry, even as the bombs continue to fall, will continue to do everything in its power to not only survive but thrive as a producer and exporter of grain.

Arvin Donley is editor of World Grain.