Besieged Ukrainian farmers worry about harvesting during the war ‘hell’

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Besieged Ukrainian farmers worry about harvesting during the war 'hell'

Crops will be vulnerable to fire caused by shelling, he said, and that could be “hell” for farmers when the harvest season begins in coming weeks.

Since Russia’s Feb 24 invasion of Ukraine, the world’s fourth-largest grains exporter, Kyiv has repeatedly accused Russia of attacking infrastructure and agriculture to provoke a global food crisis and pressure the West.

Port attack
Five shells hit a cluster of warehouses and grain conveyer belts at the Nika-Tera plant on June 4, rendering one of Ukraine’s largest agricultural terminals unable to load or unload ships, local officials said.

Moscow, which calls its war a special military operation, blames Western sanctions and sea mines laid by Ukraine for the drop in food exports and rising global prices.

Story Highlights

  • “Agriculture is one of the few business sectors that is working… Of course they want to destroy it. They want to end this stream of income into the country,” farmer Volodymyr Onyschuk said near a pile of Russian shell casings on his 2,000ha wheat and sunflower holding near Mykolaiv.

  • Asked how Mykolaiv farmers planned to reduce exposure to Russian actions, he said: “Let us just survive until the next harvest.”

The blasts triggered an intense fire in sunflower meal stores. These were still smouldering during a brief press tour on Sunday (June 12). Separate grain elevators on the site were untouched.

“They are trying to undermine food security worldwide,” said Mr Georgy Reshetilov, first deputy head of the Mykolaiv military regional administration.

The region’s agricultural facilities have suffered an estimated 34 billion hryvnia (S$1.6 billion) worth of losses, he said. Sites hit include a large producer of tomato pulp and a large number of farms. Shelling is feeding fear across a sector already hamstrung by Russia’s blockade of the Black Sea, the primary route for Ukraine’s vast agricultural exports.

Combine harvester operators are leery of bringing their equipment to the region, fearing shelling and possible mines and munitions in the fields, farmers said. Some grain traders are reluctant to even buy stocks from farmers, fearing they will have to bear responsibility if their storage facilities are subsequently attacked.

“Nobody can guarantee the safety of this harvest in a time of war,” said Mr Reshetilov. Supplies of fertiliser are running low, and without buyers for grain exports, farmers said they could struggle to raise funds to buy more supplies, even if they were available.

“Our financial resources are dwindling. We’ve put everything into this harvest,” he said. “Fuel has gone up. Fertiliser prices are insane. I don’t know how we are going to work next year,” said Mr Valentyn Matviyenko, who runs a farm near Bashtanka, around 60km north-east of Mykolaiv city where some land is within range of Russian artillery.