As 10-meter-tall mounds of sunflower meal smolder among the blackened ruins of one of Ukraine’s finest agricultural terminals, farmers in this frontline region struggle to survive a crop under Russian fire.
They see the Russian shelling of the Nika Tera port facility in the southern city of Mykolaiv on June 4 as just the most dramatic example of a broader attack on a pillar of Ukraine’s economy – and the world.
“Farming is one of the few industries that works… Of course they want to destroy it. They want to end this stream of income into the country,” farmer Volodymyr Onyshuk said next to a stack of Russian shell casings at his 2,000-hectare wheat and sunflower farm nearby from Mykolayiv.
Crops will be vulnerable to fires caused by shelling, he said, and that could be “hell” for farmers when the harvest season kicks off in the coming weeks.
When asked how the farmers in Mykolayiv planned to reduce their exposure to Russian actions, he said: “Let’s just survive until the next harvest.”
Since Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine, the world’s fourth largest grain exporter, Kyiv has repeatedly accused Russia of attacking infrastructure and agriculture to provoke a global food crisis and pressure the West.
Moscow, which describes its war as a special military operation, blames Western sanctions and Ukrainian-laid sea mines for falling food exports and rising world prices.
Five shells hit a cluster of warehouses and grain conveyors at the Nika-Tera plant, rendering one of Ukraine’s largest agricultural terminals unable to load or unload ships, local officials said.
The blasts sparked an intense fire in sunflower meal stores. These were still smoldering during a brief press tour on Sunday. Separate grain elevators on the site remained untouched.
“They are trying to undermine world food security,” said Georgy Reshetilov, first deputy head of the Mykolaiv Regional Military Administration.
The region’s agricultural facilities suffered an estimated 34 billion hryvnia ($1.16 billion) worth of losses, he said. Affected sites include a major tomato paste producer and a large number of farms.
The shelling is fueling fear in a sector already paralyzed by Russia’s blockade of the Black Sea, the main route for Ukraine’s huge agricultural exports.
Combine operators are wary of bringing their equipment to the region for fear of shells and possible mines and munitions ending up in the fields, farmers said.
Some grain traders are even reluctant to buy supplies from farmers, fearing they will be held responsible if their storage facilities are subsequently attacked.
“No one can guarantee the safety of this crop in wartime,” Reshetilov said.
Stocks of fertilizers are running low and without buyers for grain exports, farmers could struggle to raise funds to buy more stocks even if they were available.
“The fuel has gone up. Fertilizer prices are crazy. I don’t know how we’re going to work next year,” said Valentyn Matviyenko, who runs a farm near Bashtanka, about 60 kilometers northeast of the city of Mykolaiv, where some land is within range of Russian artillery.
Some traders are offering wheat prices a third of pre-war highs, he said.
“Our financial resources are dwindling. We have put everything into this harvest,” he said.
Few in the region hope diplomatic efforts will unlock the Black Sea. They said a few convoys of ships wouldn’t even affect the quantities to be exported and that it wasn’t economical to ship the same grain by road.
Additional grain storage in and around Mykolaiv has been ruled out due to the risk of shelling, Mayor Oleksandr Senkevych told Reuters. Instead, the focus is on building facilities closer to the Romanian border, where river transport is an option.
The regional administration said it is looking at community and municipal storage rather than private storage. Meanwhile, the national government is trying to simplify export procedures and is offering farmers interest-free loans.
Some are skeptical about government intervention: “The best help from the government is to do nothing. The economy will find a way to export the grain,” Mayor Senkevych said.
After spraying fertilizer on a field of young sunflowers, tractor driver Vasyl Boyko, 38, said he didn’t think a solution would be found unless Ukraine pushed back Russian forces and the West opened trade corridors in the Black Sea.
“We don’t need words, we need guns,” he said.
https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/news/farming-news/ukraines-besieged-farmers-fear-war-time-harvest-hell-41749934.html The besieged peasants in Ukraine fear the “hell” of the war harvest