Food crisis concerns mount as fighting rages in Ukraine

Mounting concerns that stalled Ukrainian grain exports could trigger a global food crisis have prompted the head of a UN organization to urge nations to act now or "pay a huge price."

World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley issued the warning online on Wednesday.

Beasley described Ukraine as a "critical global breadbasket" and said the impact of the conflict is being felt far around the world.

He said food shortages and price spikes are hitting Africa and the Middle East, with wheat and flour prices up 47 percent in Lebanon and 15 percent in Libya.

Beasley urged the international community to take immediate action to help get exports moving again from Black Sea ports.

His comments came amid intense fighting in the east of Ukraine, where Russian ground forces encountered fierce resistance in Severodonetsk in the Luhansk region on Friday.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said local forces are doing everything they can to withstand the onslaught, but that they need continued military support from Western countries.

A Ukrainian military spokesperson said the Russian navy is obstructing Ukrainian vessels in the northwestern Black Sea.

The mayor of the port city of Odesa in southern Ukraine, Gennadiy Trukhanov, told NHK the deployment of Russian vessels in the Black Sea shows that the city is vulnerable to attack. He said it's essential to be prepared.

Trukhanov said either Russia should guarantee the city's safety, or NATO should dispatch vessels to help defend Odesa. He said the sooner this happens, the sooner Ukraine's grain exports can resume.