VOA Eastern Europe bureau chief Myroslava Gongadze spoke to Ukraine’s Minister of Infrastructure Oleksandr Kubrakov about a United Nations program to deliver Ukrainian grain to the world and his country’s efforts to replace bridges damaged during Russia’s invasion. The transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
VOA: After you signed the agreement with the World Food Program under the U.N., and over 3 million tons of grain was delivered to the world, does it mean that the World Food Program and this agreement [are] working?
KUBRAKOV: Yes, you’re absolutely right. … Almost each week, we load in one, two vessels, which is going to Somalia, to Ethiopia, Kenya, and other African countries which are suffering now because you know that according to statistics of United Nations almost 70 million people now, they feel lack of food and there is a huge risk for these countries.
VOA: There was a report about Russia stealing Ukrainian grain. How are you dealing with this issue?
KUBRAVOV: We are trying to block these supplies. Normal countries which appreciate, which try to stick to international laws, they understand this, and they are not accepting such vessels with stolen grain from our country. But still there is Syria. Still there are some other countries oriented on the Russian Federation and they support such transactions.
VOA: And they are accepting the grain, Ukrainian grain under Russian pretext. There are a lot of Ukrainian grains. The world learned how big Ukraine is as an agricultural country and how much impact Ukraine has in the world. How are you planning to actually save Ukrainian grain?
KUBRAVOV: The most important for us is just to increase volume of our exports. Results of August were quite optimistic. We reached almost 5 million. It’s very similar volumes which we had before the war. So, I hope that if we will continue with the same volumes, I think we will save all our agricultural products and nothing will be spoiled. So, we will reach volumes which we had before the war.
VOA: My understanding that you are developing other ways to deliver grain, tell me about that.
KUBRAVOV: Last month we exported more than 2 million, 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’s also like a huge contribution to whole export. We are developing our railway lines in direction to Poland, to Romania. It’s also important because we passed over 1 million tons of exports through these channels.
And for sure we are trying to simplify border cross checkpoints and all of these issues with our colleagues from Poland, Romania, Slovak Republic and Hungary. It’s not so easy, we understand that our points, they were not ready for such volumes. But we are working on this, and the European Commission also supports us.
VOA: We are standing on this bridge. It’s a fresh new building. You are replacing all the bridges that were destroyed during the first stage of invasion. My understanding [is that] a lot of infrastructure would have to be replaced. How are you dealing with that? And how much you are relying on the international community for support?
KUBRAVOV: First of all, we understand that the war is continuing, and now we’re focusing only on the main roads, the main railway roads, the main infrastructure. So, we are standing on a bridge which is part of international road, so that’s why we understand it’s like top priority for us. And we have 320 destroyed bridges. We have 53 temporary bridges which are already constructed. This bridge won’t be temporary. It will be a permanent, normal bridge. I hope that we will finish it in less than one and a half months, before first of November we will open the bridge.
And you asked about support of our international partners. Fortunately, they support us, and recently we have received the decision of the European Commission and European investment Bank, they will provide financing for such recovery of like fast recovery. It’s first part of the most important bridges, railway lines and almost half a billion euro program. So, I hope that it will be enough just to cover all these urgent issues.
VOA: So far, your assessment, how much would have to be replaced?
KUBRAVOV: I can rely on figures of Kyiv School of Economy and World Bank, they are very close because one of the organizations they calculated the date on — the date was beginning of summer — Kyiv School of Economy, they are trying to update almost each week, months. So, they are close to $100 billion of direct losses of infrastructure and number one point in this figure, it’s residential buildings and second issue it’s transport infrastructure.