A Visit to Ukrainian Farms - 3

Restoring Ukrainian Dairy Co-op After Russian Invasion Could Take Years

The Russians destroyed at a dairy cooperative three grain harvesters, multiple tractors and two seeders. While the dairy farmers are working to restore one harvester and several tractors, it's expensive for the spare parts and electronics. Russians also stole batteries from the machinery and drained the diesel from the equipment. (Photo by Iurii Mykhailov)

Editor's note: Ukrainian agricultural journalist Iurii Mykhailov lives in Kyiv and visited 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 third of his four stories.


KYIV, Ukraine (DTN) -- A few weeks ago, Ukrainian agricultural journalist Iurii Mykhailov visited Liudmyla Golub; she's the chairman of Avangard, a dairy farmers' cooperative with 57 members. Golub, 43, lives near a village about 10 kilometers (about 6 miles) south of Mykolaiv, a city near the Black Sea in southern Ukraine.

The following is a translated Q&A that Mykhailov did with Golub on her farm.

(Note: Discrepancies in the number of hectares/acres come from not accounting for some small plots and/or rounding up figures.)

Mykhailov: Liudmyla, what activity did your cooperative do before the war?

Golub: (The) cooperative was involved in milk production. At the beginning of the war, we had 267 cattle, of which 130 were cows, and the rest were young animals. We also tilled 1,200 hectares (2,965 acres) of land. (This included) 450 hectares (1,112 acres) of grain, 300 hectares (741 acres) of sunflower, 150 hectares (370 acres) of corn for silage, 100 hectares (247 acres) of sorghum, 40 hectares (99 acres) of rye, 50 hectares (123 acres) of alfalfa, and 10 hectares (25 acres) of watermelons. The corn and alfalfa were most used as feed.

We delivered 2.5 to 3 tons of milk every other day to the Lactalis company in Mykolaiv.

Mykhailov: How did the Russian invasion affect the cooperative?

Golub: Russians came within 300 meters (328 yards) of the village. (A) few days after the Russian invasion (which began on Feb. 24, 2022) the entire harvest, except for 300 tons of sunflower seeds and 100 tons of wheat, was burned out due to shelling.

When the war started, the roads were blocked and mined, so we sold milk to members of the cooperative and people from neighboring villages.

Before the start of the war, we could sell sunflowers for $1,100/metric ton, and in the fall of 2022, we managed to sell it at only half the price.

On March 11, 2022, the Russians destroyed the power transmission line, and the village was cut from the electricity. The power line was repaired only in January of this year. There was no centralized tap water supply in the village for more than a year. We bought a couple of diesel generators and provided ourselves with electricity, which was also used to operate pumps for supplying water from wells. Fortunately, we have had stocks of diesel fuel since before the war.

In May last year, the situation became unbearable, and almost all employees left. Only a few workers remained, who looked after the cattle. But it was not possible to milk the cows.

Our dire situation was taken advantage of by procurers who bought cattle for pennies. For a cow, which before the war was worth about $1,500 to 2,000, they offered 10 times less. After one shelling, we had to sell five wounded cows for just $8 each.

Mykhailov: Have the Russians caused any damage to other property of the cooperative?

Golub: We lost three grain harvesters, tractors, and two seeders. But we will restore one harvester and several tractors, although this requires large expenses for the spare parts and electronics.

Also, Russians stole batteries from the machinery and drained the diesel from the equipment.

We have irrigated agriculture, but the Russians intentionally destroyed our irrigation equipment running tanks over it.

The cooperative also had its own bakery, which baked bread for all members of the cooperative. But, at the moment, the bakery is not operating because the ovens have been destroyed.

Mykhailov: How many workers were there in the cooperative before and after the invasion?

Golub: Before the war, 65 people worked in the cooperative, now only 35: some were evacuated, three workers were drafted into the army. Unfortunately, due to a lack of finances, we cannot ensure that we rehire those workers who were evacuated before the Russian invasion.

Mykhailov: Your cooperative is located in the village. How much did the villagers suffer from the invasion?

Golub: The village was shelled every day. People slept in basements and cellars that were used as shelters. Villagers helped each other put out the fires in the houses, but several of them, mine included, were completely destroyed. Six residents of the village were killed in the shelling, among them was killed our chief engineer.

The Russians withdrew from the village only in mid-April last year, and the shelling stopped only on Nov. 10, when the Russians moved from Kherson to the left bank of the Dnieper. Before that, there was continuous aimless shelling for several days. But until now, Iranian reconnaissance and attack UAVs continue to fly.

Mykhailov: What do you intend to do now after the withdrawal of the Russians?

Golub: This spring we managed to sow 150 hectares of sunflower, 100 hectares of wheat and 400 hectares of barley, plus some peas, and use fertilizers and pesticides that we bought before the Russian invasion. The Corteva company supplied us with installments of seeds for a 20% advance payment and pesticides for a 40% advance payment. We have to pay for seeds in August, and for pesticides in autumn.

Unfortunately, we don't have an agronomist now.

The Howard Buffett Foundation has temporarily provided us with two seeders for spring sowing. Also, the Buffett Foundation will provide a New Holland harvester on the same terms for harvesting. But we had to pay for their transportation and diesel. Transportation of seeders cost us $900 one way. Also, we will have to pay for the transportation of the grain harvester. Anyway, the Buffett Foundation helped us to save at least $40,000, compared to if we had rented a harvester and tractors with seeders.

Mykhailov: How are you going to restore the business of the cooperative?

Golub: Before the war started, we had about $20,000 in the bank account, plus the sale of sunflower and wheat allowed the co-op to continue business. At the moment, our priority is to restore the roof over the granaries and cowsheds, and this, given their area, is very costly.

But despite the great difficulty, we still, first of all, are restoring the school, the village club and the first aid station.

At the moment, banks are refusing to credit us because the fields have not been surveyed for the presence of mines and shells. At the same time, two of our workers received serious leg injuries from a mine explosion in the field.

We are sometimes helped with demining by volunteer sappers (combat engineers) from Norway, when we ourselves discover mines and unexploded shells in the fields. Thus, demining takes place very slowly.

Considering all these, the restoration of the co-op without state or international aid may take years, if not decades.

Upcoming: DTN will publish the translation of one more interview with a Ukrainian farmer -- a grain farmer from the Chernihiv region.


To see the first story in this special package, "Ukrainian Farmers Share How War Clashes Affected Them in Ukraine," go to https://www.dtnpf.com/…

To see the second story in this special package, "30-Year-Business Destroyed in an Instant: Ukrainian Vegetable Farmer Shares Impact of Russian Attacks," go to https://www.dtnpf.com/…

To see recent coverage by DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton, "Ukraine Grain Shipping Struggles Mount," see https://www.dtnpf.com/…

Also see "Russia, Ukraine Harden Lines on Black Sea and Grain Shipments as Strikes on Ports Continue" at https://www.dtnpf.com/…