VOA Eastern Europe Bureau Chief Myroslava Gongadze spoke with Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov about a United Nations program to deliver Ukrainian grain to the world and the efforts of his countries to replace bridges damaged during the Russian invasion. Transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
VOA: After signing the agreement with the World Food Program within the framework of the UN, and more than 3 million tons of cereals have been delivered in the world, does this mean that the World Food Program and this agreement [are] work?
KUBRAKOV: Yes, you are absolutely right. … Almost every week we load in one, two ships, which go to Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and other African countries which are now suffering because you know that according to United Nations statistics, almost 70 million people feel lack of food and there is a huge risk for these countries.
VOA: There was a report about the theft of Ukrainian grain by Russia. How do you handle this problem?
KUBRAVO: We are trying to block these supplies. Normal countries that appreciate, that try to stick to international laws, they understand that, and they don’t accept such ships with grain stolen from our country. But there is always Syria. Still, there are other countries oriented towards the Russian Federation and they support such deals.
VOA: And they accept grain, Ukrainian grain under Russian pretext. There are a lot of Ukrainian cereals. The world learned about the size of Ukraine as an agricultural country and the impact of Ukraine in the world. How do you actually plan to save Ukrainian grain?
KUBRAVO: The most important thing for us is simply to increase the volume of our exports. The results for August were rather optimistic. We have reached nearly 5 million. These are volumes very similar to those we had before the war. So, I hope that if we continue with the same volumes, I think we will save all our agricultural products and nothing will be wasted. Thus, we will reach the volumes we had before the war.
VOA: If I understand correctly that you are developing other means of delivering the grain, tell me about that.
KUBRAVO: Last month, we exported more than 2 million, or about 2.2 million tons of different products through three ports on [the] Danube [River] and 1.6 million tons of agricultural products. So it is also like a huge contribution to the whole export. We are developing our rail lines towards Poland, Romania. It is also important because we have moved over a million tonnes of exports through these channels.
And of course we are trying to simplify border checkpoints and all these issues with our colleagues from Poland, Romania, the Slovak Republic and Hungary. It’s not that simple, we understand that our tips weren’t ready for such volumes. But we are working on it, and the European Commission is also supporting us.
VOA: We are standing on this bridge. It’s a brand new building. You replace all bridges that were destroyed during the first stage of the invasion. My understanding [is that] a lot of infrastructure should be replaced. How do you handle this? And to what extent do you rely on the international community to support you?
KUBRAVO: First of all, we understand that the war continues, and now we focus only on the main roads, the main railways, the main infrastructure. So, we are standing on a bridge that is part of an international road, which is why we understand that this is a top priority for us. And we have 320 bridges destroyed. We have 53 temporary bridges that are already built. This bridge will not be temporary. It will be a permanent and normal bridge. I hope we will complete it in less than a month and a half, before the first of November, we will open the bridge.
And you asked about support from our international partners. Fortunately, they support us, and recently we received the decision from the European Commission and the European Investment Bank, they will provide financing for such a recovery as a rapid recovery. It is the first part of the most important bridges, railway lines and a program of nearly half a billion euros. So I hope it will be enough to cover all these pressing issues.
VOA: So far, according to your assessment, how much should be replaced?
KUBRAVO: I can trust the figures from the Kyiv School of Economy and the World Bank, they are very close because one of the organizations on which they calculated the date – the date was at the beginning of summer – Kyiv School of Economy, they try to update almost every week, month. So that’s close to $100 billion in direct infrastructure losses, and the first point in that figure is residential buildings, and the second problem is transportation infrastructure.