Ukraine

War in Ukraine: emergency harvest to save agricultural production

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In the Donbass, in the east of Ukraine, while the bombardments are daily, the farmers have a priority: to harvest as soon as possible. They still have three weeks to save the wheat harvest. They fear that their fields will be burned by Russian bombs.

In the middle of one of the black earth fields that make Ukraine rich, the combine lies motionless, about 20 kilometers from the front line. A week ago, it hit a mine. A front wheel was torn off, the giant cutterbar of the agricultural machine hanging pitifully next to the smoking remains of the driver's cab.

The latter, Pavlo Koudimov, was hospitalized with severe burns. "Farming has always been difficult, but it's even more difficult now," he complains. On August 1, after months of negotiations, the first cargo ship loaded with Ukrainian grain left Odessa, ending the Russian blockade of Ukrainian Black Sea ports that threatened a food crisis in many countries.

This departure - some 15 other ships have since left from three Ukrainian ports - was also a relief for the agricultural sector in Ukraine, one of the world's main granaries: before this, farmers were forced to store their grain or sell it at a loss. But for the farmers of Donbass, the eastern basin of Ukraine on which Russian troops have been concentrating their assault for four months, the threat continues.

Last year, Sergei Loubarski was paid up to eight hryvnia (0.21 euros) per kilo of wheat sold. Since the beginning of the war, he can only get three hryvnia for it, and even then only if he manages to transport it to the regional center in Kramatorsk.

In Rai-Aleksandrovka, his village on the front line, he only gets 1.80 hryvnia from traders because "drivers are afraid to come here. Eduard Stoukalo, 46, farms 150 hectares on the outskirts of the city of Sloviansk. Thirty hectares of wheat have already "completely burned" because, according to him, of artillery fire. And he is obviously struggling to convince his workers to continue to participate in the harvest. "Farmers like us will go bankrupt. No one wants to go, everyone is afraid of the missiles that are coming," he laments. "We were also risking our lives when we planted in April and May," he adds, "Cluster bombs hit our fields. The bombs exploded 100 or 200 meters from us.

But some, driven by the economic crisis, continue to go to the fields. "There is no other work here," sighs Svitlana Gaponova, 57, as she harvests eggplants in a field outside the besieged town of Soledar. "It's scary but distracting," she adds to the sound of explosions being heard in the distance.

In this poor region of Ukraine, subsistence farming is also firmly rooted. At the Sunday market, some people sell the few products they manage to grow on their personal plots. "People are constantly working on it," says Volodymyr Rybalkin, the head of the military administration of the Sviatoguirsk district, located on the front line. According to him, this is one of the reasons why so many residents are reluctant to leave. "We constantly explain to people what is happening and try to motivate them to evacuate to safer cities," he continues.

Although they do not weigh anything on the world trade balance, these small individual plots are not free of danger. In the early hours of Monday morning, gunfire ripped through the land behind 57-year-old Lyubov Kanicheva's house on the outskirts of the large industrial center of Kramatorsk.

The vines have been covered with dust, the tomatoes are crushed in the ground and a dozen beehives have been broken, to the point that the buzzing of the bees merges with the howling of the air raid sirens. "This garden was just to meet our needs, but we managed to grow a lot of things," she laments: "There is nothing left of it."



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