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 final of his four stories.
KYIV, Ukraine (DTN) -- A few weeks ago, Ukrainian agricultural journalist Iurii Mykhailov visited 43-year-old Serhii Iakovenko, a grain farmer from a village that is 20 kilometers west of the city of Chernihiv in northern Ukraine.
The following is a translated Q&A that Mykhailov did with Iakovenko on his farm.
Mykhailov: Serhiy, the first thing I saw when I entered the farm was the construction of some kind of structure. What are you building?
Iakovenko: Russians entered the village, which turned out to be located on their way from Belarus to Kyiv, on Feb. 26 (2022). The farm was occupied from Feb. 26 to March 30.
The Russians came convinced that they had liberated us, but when they found out that they were not welcome here and were considered occupiers, they began to rage. Buryats were especially furious. (Buryats are an ethnic group from Siberia). So, in retaliation, Russians began to destroy the property of the farm. They blew out warehouses with an area of 4,500 square meters (5,382 square yards) in which 4 metric tons (4.4 tons) of grain were stored and which was completely destroyed.
Also, in these warehouses were stored plant protection products and 400 mt (440 t) of fertilizers which were almost all burned out. I managed to save a small amount of fertilizer after the fire, which I later used in sowing last year.
But, before blowing up the warehouses, Russians stole 70 mt (21,755 gallons) of diesel fuel from the warehouse.
Due to the need to provide storage for the grain of the new crop, I decided to build a new warehouse instead of trying to restore the destroyed ones. Maybe I'll fix them up later.
I hope to complete the construction of the new warehouse before the harvest begins.
Mykhailov: I also saw groups of workers involved in the construction and restoration of machinery. How seriously was the equipment damaged by Russians?
Iakovenko: The equipment was completely dismantled: The Russians stole batteries, headlights, electrical equipment, starters, electronics from seed drills. Russians even removed the seats and the steering wheels from harvesters and the sprayer.
Before the Russian invasion, there were on the farm 15 tractors, 15 trucks, seven harvesters, a Kverneland sprayer, which I paid for just a few days before the invasion.
I restored the equipment, disassembling three or four dismantled units into spare parts. I also purchased spare parts all over Ukraine, I ordered on the internet, I personally traveled around Ukraine in search of spare parts.
Mykhailov: Do you employ the same number of workers as before the Russian invasion?
Iakovenko: Before the war, about 30 workers worked on the farm. Five workers helped locate the Russian military equipment and relayed the intelligence to the Ukrainian armed forces, which then launched artillery strikes on the identified targets. Four out of five of our guerillas were captured by the Russians and shot right in the middle of the village. After the shooting, knife wounds were found on their bodies, meaning they were tortured.
Another worker was drafted into the ranks of the armed forces of Ukraine. So now 25 workers are employed on the farm.
Mykhailov: Your farm is located near the village. Did the community members experience problems related to the occupation?
Iakovenko: Before the war, there lived about 900 people in our community, now there are about 200 people less, most of those people left Ukraine and have not returned until now. Also, several families were killed during shelling and bombing. Several houses were completely destroyed, many houses were damaged.
Despite the fact that before the war we had our own medical and midwifery post, after the arrival of the Russians, our community was completely encircled, and therefore we had big problems with medical care, especially related to the lack of medicines. There was a case when we called an ambulance from a nearby town, but the Russians did not allow it to come.
The psychology of people in the community suffered the greatest damage -- people experienced a huge psychological trauma.
Mykhailov: You are engaged in the production of grain. How have your activities changed in connection with the Russian aggression?
Iakovenko: The soils here are clay-sandy, so before the Russian invasion I tilled a little more than 2,000 hectares (almost 5,000 acres) of land, on which I grew rye, wheat, sunflower, corn and rapeseed, about 400 hectares (988 acres) under each crop.
After the retreat of the Russians, it turned out that large areas of land were mined. The Ukrainian military helped to quickly clear 1,500 hectares (3,700 acres) of land, so I was able to plant crops in unmined fields. But approximately 500 hectares (1,235 acres) still remain unmined. I think you noticed the corresponding warning signs on the way here.
Nevertheless, it was possible to sow the fields, slightly changing the structure of crops, reducing the area under corn, because there were not enough available fertilizers. The idea was not so much to get any kind of profit, but rather that if the fields are left unsown, they will be irreparably overgrown with weeds in a year. In addition, sowing gave an opportunity to give work to hired workers.
Since there was three to four times less equipment than before the invasion, we had to work around the clock. We finished sowing last year at the end of May -- three weeks later than usual. Practically, the seeding operations followed the progress of the sappers (combat engineers).
Fortunately, not all purchased resources were delivered before the invasion, including seeds, fertilizers and pesticides, which allowed them to be obtained after the liberation and planting could be carried out.
This year, the input suppliers I work with provided me with seeds for free to plant 100 hectares (247 acres) of sunflowers and 100 hectares of corn.
Mykhailov: What did you do with the grain after harvesting since your warehouses were destroyed?
Iakovenko: Since the granaries were completely destroyed, I was forced to sell most of the crop immediately after it was harvested. Fortunately, I have my own grain trucks, which were quickly repaired. This made it possible to sell the grain in the Odesa port directly to exporters, bypassing middlemen.
Mykhailov: How will you deal with this year's harvest?
Iakovenko: Right now, I do not know how and where to sell the harvest, since the ports of Odessa are not operating. If the "grain initiative", which expires on July 18, is not prolonged, there will be great difficulties with the sale of the harvest, as there will be an influx of grain sellers to the ports on the Danube. Queues of cars to the Danube ports can stretch for tens or even hundreds of kilometers. Despite the fact that Ukrainian ports on the Danube are being developed, their capacity is still only 20% of the capacity of Odesa ports. The situation will resemble the one that was last spring before the start of the grain corridor.
Mykhailov: So what are your plans for the near future?
Iakovenko: I intend to restore the farm step-by-step. In Ukraine, it is now difficult to get a bank loan. Therefore, I will have to restore at my own expense. Maybe there will be some government or foreign aid. Without it, the recovery of the farm may take years.
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, "30-Year-Business Destroyed in an Instant: Ukrainian Vegetable Farmer Shares Impact of Russian Attacks," go to https://www.dtnpf.com/…
To see the third story, "Restoring Ukrainian Dairy Co-op After Russian Invasion Could Take Years," 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/…
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