The Ukrainian land is still wounded

The Ukrainian land is still wounded

The agricultural sector in Ukraine still fears war. The farm manager of the Agrio region, Volodimir Kravtsov, 42, first asks that his crop fields are not included in this article at the request of the security services. So be it; Suffice it to say that they are located on a piece of land in the Kyiv region. “In Ukraine,” Kravtsov explains, “they fired high-precision missiles at elevators.” For the untrained, these elevators are the neatest jewel in an agricultural production. This is where the grain arrives, is weighed, cleaned, dried and preserved before it goes to the buyer. But here, on this excursion, is the deepest wound inflicted by the Russian campaign in the countryside. The blockade of southwestern ports that provide access to the Black Sea paralyzed the movement of Ukrainian grain, the country’s main export. The unblocking thanks to the agreement reached separately between Ukraine and Russia in July with Turkey’s action seemed to clear the way, but only for a few. “We can’t finance transport through Odessa now,” explains Kravtsov, “only the big owners of the port terminals that they built for their companies can do that.”

And this agro-region is not small. It farms 40,000 hectares in the central zone of the country. Maize, wheat, sunflowers, barley, rapeseed… “We were among the most efficient, then the rest came,” says the manager. That is, when the Russian troops, with the control of some ports and a flotilla of twenty frigates in the waters, began to impede the exit south through the Black Sea, this company turned southwest and sent its trucks towards the Danube. A good idea, but not without problems: firstly, because both this and most of the pre-war Ukrainian agribusinesses loaded trains with a large capacity (3,500 tons per trip) in 90% of cases towards ports in the south of the country .

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Transporting the grain to the border with Romania, which marks the course of the Danube up to its mouth, requires the use of trucks – Ukraine does not share the gauge with the rest of Europe – with a much more limited capacity (22 tons per trailer) , and arm yourself with patience, because the ports there don’t have the size and viability of those of Odessa, for example. Not even the borders are able to accommodate this volume of transport, with truck queues of up to 20 kilometers at the Krakovets-Korczowa border crossing into Polish territory.

Farmland, another goal of the war

Agriculture is the first pillar of Ukraine’s economy, cultivating around 41 million hectares. In 2019, the last year of some stability, 74 million tons of grain were produced. It’s among the top exporters of corn and wheat – particularly in regions heavily dependent on these grains but also vulnerable due to the health of their economies, such as the Middle East and the African continent – but the country’s vast fields of sunflowers also turn it on the top of the world export of the oil that its seeds give. For this reason, the farmland was a target of the war and also of its employees.

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Subscribe toGarnet debris collected in one of the fields of the Agro region east of Kyiv.Garnet debris collected in one of the fields of the Agro region east of Kyiv.

Kravtsov always said that you attack with precision weapons, and here is an example: On July 31, during a strong Russian offensive in Mikolayiv in the south of the country, a missile went through Oleksii Vadaturskii’s bedroom. Vadaturskii was the owner of Nubilon, one of the largest Ukrainian agribusinesses, which has ships and a shipyard. The relevance of this businessman, who died in this attack along with his wife, is so great that the country’s President, Volodimir Zelenski, dedicated a few words to him in one of his usual statements.

The corn harvest is green and very high, although the harvest will not take place until late September or even October. Sunflowers, slender in the shelter of the green leaf, look impressive at this time. Yurii Lisak, the chief agronomist of the agro-region, drives ashore, which not so long ago showed almost more rockets than seeds. Walls of sandbags still stand along the road – for what may come – and traces of mines along the edges. “In this grove,” says Lisak, 41, “our tanks were hiding; They went out to shoot and went back in.” It shows the photos of the remains of projectiles they found in the crops. With the help of the Ukrainian military, they removed the remains and returned to the pit. Two plows and a cultivator are now working to collect the new seed.

According to the agricultural association UCAB, which sent the large companies in the sector in Ukraine to EL PAÍS, around 18.5 million tons of grain are currently blocked due to the Russian offensive. The problems are innumerable: if it doesn’t make it to market, there’s no final sale, but it also serves as a buffer for the next harvest. The drop in exports from about 6 million tons a month before the war to 2.5 million tons now cannot be offset by the domestic market, which requires only 19 million tons of grain a year. And without overseas sales, the food security of so many grain-dependent countries is threatened.

On July 22, under the auspices of the UN Secretary-General, negotiators from Russia and Ukraine signed agreements with Turkey. Since then, around twenty freighters have left the ports in the southwest of the country for the Black Sea. “The unlocking solves the current problems of exporting grain from the previous harvest, which has already been contracted by bulk sellers,” explains Ukrainian economist Oleksii Kushch, “already paid for and stored in port terminals.” “Indirectly”, the expert continues, “unloading these terminals also facilitates the logistics of the current harvest, but more in the long term”. According to this economist, the very valuable agricultural sector in Ukraine needs two things: that the state buy grain to help the little ones, and at the same time encourage the processing of products to give them a different value. This is, for example, flour instead of grain.

Meanwhile, in companies like the one run by Volodimir Kravtsov, they clench their heads to be the most creative in logistics and finance, reaching Romania, Poland or Lithuania. If you need to ask for a loan – now they spend 5 times more on transport than before – ask for it, although the guarantee is the grain, and if it is not sold … Layoffs in the agro-region are rare, but one other thing , admits this manager , it will be next season if they don’t manage to sell the crop. “There will be companies that don’t make it,” he admits.

“Are you feeling frustrated?”

“It pisses us off when you talk about peace negotiations. Difficulties do not scare us, until the end of the year we will resist. The best we can do is get the Russians off our land and we’ll take care of the rest.

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