Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Russian attacks have disrupted Ukraine's supply chain, which may cause food shortages


Less than one week into the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a broader humanitarian crisis is emerging. As hundreds of thousands of civilians flee the war, life inside Ukraine could be worsening. Imported food supplies, fuel and medicine all rely on a logistics network that has been disrupted by the violence. NPR investigative correspondent Tim Mak explains the stakes while on the road in western Ukraine.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: In Lviv, the largest city here in the west, there's a misleading sense of calm. Pharmacies are still dispensing critical drugs, and most gas stations continue selling, albeit with long waits. But this scene hides a looming threat. Pavlo Titko is the head of the humanitarian group Malteser Ukraine, and he's been feeding refugees as they flow through this travel hub. He's deeply involved in logistics, and he's deeply concerned about possible shortages of food.

Do you think that that there will be serious food shortages in Lviv in a couple of days?

PAVLO TITKO: (Through interpreter) Yes, he thinks so.

MAK: So not just for the elderly and the poor but for everyone?

TITKO: (Through interpreter) For everyone.

MAK: More than 80 miles away, in the direction of Kyiv, Roman Huk, a doctor at a local hospital in Ternopil, warns that lifesaving drugs are in short supply.

ROMAN HUK: (Through interpreter) The stuff that we have here right now, it's only going to last for a week, not longer.

MAK: Kharkiv, a city in the far northeast of the country along the border with Russia, has seen intense shelling in recent days. One resident who recently fled told us she saw long lines, even just for a few potatoes. The prospect of widespread shortages has even caught the attention of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: (Speaking Ukrainian).

MAK: He says the government is working to repair shattered supply chains of food, medicine and equipment. With so many men and women enlisting, a shortage of personnel has been a major obstacle. Ivan Palchevskiy is the spokesperson for Fozzy Group, a supermarket chain in the country.

IVAN PALCHEVSKIY: (Through interpreter) We have enough food and products in our warehouses, but we don't have enough people who can work as drivers, who can sort the products and who can load it.

MAK: Meanwhile, the U.N. refugee agency said that nearly 700,000 people have already crossed the border from Ukraine into safer areas. The flow of migrants has overwhelmed border infrastructure. Dale Perry is the managing director of ERU Management Services, a privately held U.S. company active in the gas industry of Ukraine. He's been doing business in Ukraine for the last eight years, and he wants to help alleviate the suffering.

DALE PERRY: I put a brick of $100,000 on his desk.

MAK: He has cash, but even bricks of money can't solve the problems he's facing in Polish border towns, where everything is sold out, including medical supplies and necessities he's trying to get into Ukraine.

PERRY: The medical supply, the camping gear, the stuff to stay warm - the shelves are bare.

MAK: And while he witnesses bare shelves on the Polish side, he's worried it portends even more dramatic shortages in Ukraine - and soon.

PERRY: The Ukrainian people need help. Put humanitarian aid at every freaking border town and let the Ukrainians and the Poles take it across. Please. Just fly it in.

MAK: So just under one week into the war, reverberations of the fighting are spreading, even far from the front lines.

Tim Mak, NPR News, Ternopil Oblast.

(SOUNDBITE OF TUATARA'S "EL BRUJO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tim Mak is NPR's Washington Investigative Correspondent, focused on political enterprise journalism.