Editor's note: Ukrainian agricultural journalist Iurii Mykhailov lives in Kyiv and traveled to visit farmers affected by the Russia-Ukraine war. He provided freelance content to the Japanese publication, The Japan Agricultural News, as well as to DTN/Progressive Farmer. This is the first of his stories.
KYIV, Ukraine (DTN) -- In early June, I had the idea to interview several Ukrainian farmers affected by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
My wife didn't like the idea from the very start, arguing that it was extremely dangerous to visit areas located near the zones of hostilities.
Unfortunately, the war rages and there are no safe places in Ukraine, as shown by the Russian air strikes on the city of Lviv that is just less than a hundred kilometers (about 60 miles) from Poland.
Here I must make a remark about the safety in Kyiv where I live.
Kyiv is often subjected to rocket attacks, and the inspection of bomb shelters showed that the available shelters can only provide protection for at most 40% of Kyivans.
For example, the so-called bomb shelter closest to the apartment building I live in is actually just an underground street crossing, located 200 meters (218 yards) away. Obviously, this "shelter" does not have any amenities, like seats, a toilet, etc. The Russians bombard Kyiv mainly at night, and it is very tiring to run several times a night to this shelter and stand in it for several hours, squeezed on all sides, like a herring in a barrel.
At the same time, about the same level of protection during the bombing is provided by my apartment with concrete walls, unless there is a direct hit on the wall, which is unlikely.
At last, I managed to convince my wife that going to visit the farmers is no more dangerous than staying at home.
For help in choosing farmers for interviews, I turned to the Ukrainian Agro Connection farmers' cooperative, where they recommended farmers from Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Kherson and Mykolaiv regions.
Unfortunately, a trip to the Kharkiv region had to be ruled out, as the recommended farm is only 5 km (3 miles) from the Russian border, where active military operations are taking place even now, and the area is under constant artillery fire.
I also had to rule out a trip to the Kherson region, where a few days earlier the Russians blew up the Kakhovka dam, and a mass evacuation of the population was carried out from the flooded areas. The area was in turmoil due to the evacuation of residents and was complicated by heavy shelling by the Russian military.
Considering this, a trip to this area turned out to be impossible.
Thus, I chose to visit farmers in Mykolaiv (southern Ukraine) and Chernihiv (northern Ukraine) regions.
Since I have no car, I had to use public transport. At that time, seats on the trains to and from the Mykolaiv (located only 70 km -- 43 miles -- from Kherson) were unavailable, so I was to take the night bus.
Ukraine is fighting invaders in the country. Russian saboteurs need to be prevented from blending in to carry out acts of sabotage and disruption, and to locate military targets for further attacks. Thus, on the way to the farmers on the critical crossroads and cities' borders militia checked travelers' IDs.
Photography is strictly regulated. I have a press pass, but I am not allowed to take pictures of military installations or areas where missiles have recently landed and caused damage. This is because the enemy may use such photos to adjust the coordinates, which could lead to a new attack.
If you take pictures with a camera, residents may call the police to report you as a "suspicious person," and you may be taken into custody. One must not forget that Ukrainians are living in the midst of war.
Along the way, even far from the places of clashes between the Ukrainian army and the Russians, I saw numerous buildings and structures destroyed as a result of rocket attacks. And the picture of destruction in the villages where farmers lived caused shock and tears: How could this happen in the center of Europe in the 21st century?
The stories of all three farmers visited were somewhat the same: a peaceful and well-established life, abruptly cut short after Feb. 24, 2022.
In one case, the Russians occupied a farm, in another case they were stopped just a few hundred meters away, and in one other case, the farm became a front line.
The losses of the farmers were horrendous. What was not destroyed as a result of shelling and bombing was looted by Russian soldiers. And even what the Russians could not steal, they simply destroyed just for the fun of it. Also, all farmers noted the extreme cruelty of the Russians towards the local population.
The damage inflicted by the Russian army on farmers is so great that it will take many years for the farms to be restored to their pre-war state.
During the next few days, DTN will publish the translations of the three interviews with the farmers: the chairman of a dairy farmers' cooperative in the Mykolaiv region; a farmer in the Mykolaiv region, engaged in the production of vegetables; and a farmer from the Chernihiv region who grows grain.
To see coverage this week by DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton, "Ukraine Grain Shipping Struggles Mount", see https://www.dtnpf.com/…
Also, "Russia, Ukraine Harden Lines on Black Sea and Grain Shipments as Strikes on Ports Continue," at https://www.dtnpf.com/…
(c) Copyright 2023 DTN, LLC. All rights reserved.