“It’s a success story for all of us”: Svetlana on transporting grain from Ukraine

04. 01. 2023

We broke the 1 million tonnes barrier in transporting grain from the Ukraine in 2022. Many of our committed employees have organised such transport and kept things moving. They indirectly help ensure global supply chain stability. Svetlana Yasar is one of them.

The outbreak of war in Ukraine turned the world of logistics on its head. Over 20 million tonnes of grain were stuck in Ukraine and at risk of perishing due to the blockade on Black Sea ports. Ukraine is the largest agricultural producer in Europe – meaning it was a matter of ensuring global supply chain stability in getting grain out of the country using alternative channels as quickly as possible.

As a sustainable backbone of the European economy within the logistics industry, we at ÖBB Rail Cargo Group (RCG) saw ourselves as being responsible for stimulating overland agricultural trade so that we could ensure supply chain stability regarding grain in Europe whilst also supporting Ukrainian farmers in the process. This greatly improved grain transport from Ukraine and essentially helped to harvest it. Monthly transport volumes are currently between 100,000 and 150,000 tonnes. As a comparison: This figure was between 8,000 and 11,000 tonnes per month in the period before the outbreak of war. A landmark was reached in November as we celebrated one million tonnes of grain that had passed the western Ukrainian border and headed towards Europe. 

How did this transport come about, and what happened in the process? These were questions we asked Svetlana Yarar, a sales specialist in the RCG team. After all, she and many other colleagues have been responsible for ensuring that transport was successful and that grain supplies were secured in the process.

Svetlana Yasar

How did transport from Ukraine come about?

As is the case with all transport we do, the process starts with a query or acquisition of a new customer. We carried out a series of checks and clarified what product could be transported from which Ukrainian railway station into the EU. Usually, the grain arrives at a specific terminal on a broad gauge railway in Ukraine, where we reload the goods onto narrow gauge wagons.

Who are your customers?  

Agricultural companies and producers are my customers. 

Have you ever been on site during transport, e.g. in Záhony during transshipment?

With my customers, transshipment usually takes place in Ukraine. I haven’t had the chance to visit the site yet for this reason. However, I aim to visit the transshipment terminals in 2023. 

What are the challenges faced when organising grain transport?

In my opinion, all transport from the CIS countries is unusual and comes with widely varying challenges. We are very well prepared at RCG, we already have a lot of experience and enjoy facing these challenges.

Before actual transportation takes place, we have to clarify plenty of questions, particularly when transporting grain: What transshipment method is used? Does the customer have silos near EU borders or does the product reach the terminal in another way? Does the terminal have spare capacity? How long does transshipment last? How quickly can we cross the border into the EU? Only after answering these questions are we able to ensure a quality service and transport for the long term.

How would you summarise 2022?

One year ago, we would never have been able to imagine that we would be so involved in transporting products from Ukraine. This was new territory for us, but it was also new for Ukrainian companies as well. They had exported large quantities before, just not by rail. We at RCG started to put our focus on exporting grain from Ukraine without knowing what happens and also without knowing if it would work.

In my opinion, we have achieved great things in our department. This success is not just to individual colleagues, it is a success for all of us. It’s the synergy resulting from decades of experience, of motivation and not being worried about trying out new things. As a team we are willing to work dynamically and flexibly. Every time. I am proud of being part of this team!