It was one of the most profound consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: a huge blow to the global supply of wheat, corn, barley and other staples, and a steep hike in the prices for these commodities. Before the war, Russia was the world’s largest exporter of wheat and Ukraine ranked fifth; they were the top exporters of sunflower oil, a vital source for cooking in much of the less-developed world. Early in the war, Grid reported on the global food crisis — and the fears that a prolonged war would only make it worse. How could Ukrainians plant and harvest crops during wartime? And how would already-harvested crops get to global buyers, given a Russian blockade of Black Sea ports where some 50 million tons of these staples sat, unable to move?
Six months in, the surprising news is that the worst case appears to have been averted — for now. Wheat futures have plunged from a price of nearly $13 per bushel to below $8, roughly the pre-war price. Corn is also back to its pre-war price. Palm oil prices have actually dipped to less than they were six months ago.
What’s the reason for this bit of good news? The obvious answer is last month’s U.N.-brokered deal that eased Russia’s blockade; more than two dozen ships laden with Ukrainian food have sailed through the Black Sea — putting most of those 50 million tons of food back on the global market. But that’s only one price depressor; among other reasons, economists have also cited what might seem like another surprise: In the midst of war, Russia has reaped a bumper harvest. The Economist, citing the U.S. Department of Agriculture, reports that Russian wheat exports will reach a record 38 million tons in the coming year.
The markets for food commodities are as volatile as any, however, and with no end in sight for the war, and no shortage of climate-related problems ravaging farms in other parts of the world, the spike may return. This week corn futures are up, thanks to concerns about the U.S. harvest.
For the moment, though, it’s that rare thing: a data point about the war worth celebrating.
Grid’s reporting is based on the best available data and reporting; in some cases, we explained a range of figures or the reason we chose one over another. We originally published this document March 24 and will update it every Thursday as long as the war persists.
Civilians killed: at least 5,500 (probably thousands more)
On June 7, a Ukrainian official said at least 40,000 Ukrainian civilians had been killed or wounded since the war began. The official offered no breakdown of dead versus wounded. The United Nations’ latest estimate of civilians killed is more than 5,500, but it consistently notes that the figure is an undercount, as is its estimate of total casualties — a combination of deaths and injuries — given as more than 13,000. (Updated Aug. 24; source.)
Ukrainian soldiers killed: 5,500 to 11,000
Top advisers to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy have estimated that 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed since the war began. Meanwhile, on Aug. 22, Gen. Valeriy Zaluzhny, Ukraine’s commander-in-chief, said the country had lost about 9,000 troops. U.S. intelligence officials have put the number at 5,500 to 11,000 Ukrainian soldiers killed since the invasion. On June 10, an adviser to Zelenskyy said Ukraine was losing as many as 200 soldiers each day. (Updated Aug. 24; source, source.)
Russian soldiers killed: 1,351 to over 45,000
Ukraine has raised its estimate of Russian soldiers killed in the conflict to more than 45,000. NATO has estimated Russian troop losses at between 7,000 and 15,000. Russian media outlets claimed 5,000 troop losses, though the last updated number of 1,351 deaths from the Russian Defense Ministry is from March. Spokesman Dimitry Peskov said there have been “significant losses of troops, and it’s a huge tragedy for us.” (Updated Aug. 24; source, source, source.)
Russian generals killed: 8 to 13
A retired Russian general was reportedly shot down over Luhansk in late May — by Ukrainian counts the 13th Russian general to be killed in Ukraine. Previously, the Defense Intelligence Agency reported that eight to 10 Russian generals had been killed in Ukraine. Grid’s Tom Nagorski and Joshua Keating previously reported on the possible explanations for this “inconceivable” toll: poor communications and command-and-control structures within the Russian military. (Updated May 25; source, source.)
Total displaced Ukrainians: at least 13 million
There are more than 6.8 million Ukrainian refugees reported in other European countries currently. United Nations data indicates more than 11 million Ukrainians have crossed the border since the start of the war, but millions have returned home, largely from Poland, as Nikhil Kumar and Kseniia Lisnycha reported. The International Organization for Migration’s latest survey of internally displaced Ukrainians, in late June, found more Ukrainians returning home from within Ukraine, but more than 6.5 million remained displaced within their own country. (Updated Aug. 24; source; source.)