Conflicts & War

Ukrainian farmers face challenges amid war

By Maria Traspaderne

Odesa, Ukraine, Mar 31 (EFE).- With the war raging in Ukraine, a major exporter of wheat, Vitali Bilan is fighting to keep his 100-hectare farm in the port city of Odesa in business.

Bilan is lucky. His farm in which he grows wheat, lettuce and other vegetables is located in a relatively quiet area that has not been shelled. This is why his 20 employees have decided to stay to continue working alongside him.

However, many other Ukrainian farmers are not as lucky.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned the upcoming wheat season in Ukraine could affect the global food supply because of the uncertainty amid the Russian invasion.

Ukraine, together with Russia, supply more than a third of the world’s grains. Together, the nations provide 19% of the world’s barley supply, 14% of wheat and 4% of corn.

They are also the biggest players in rapeseed and sunflower oil exports.

In one of his addresses to the nation, Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on farmers to continue sowing as many fields as possible to be able to feed themselves, as well as support other countries.

“It is not clear if Ukraine’s farmers will be able to harvest and deliver wheat for the market. The massive population displacement has reduced the number of agricultural laborers and workers. Accessing agricultural fields would be difficult,” FAO chief, Qu Dongyu, told Efe.

Bilan also does not know what will happen until June, the harvest season, but he knows he is going to resist as hard as he can.

“As long as the missiles don’t fall, we are going to continue doing what we have been doing,” he tells Efe.

When the war started on February 24, Bilan worked on the farm with his wife and five children. After 10 days, his wife and one of his daughters fled to France.

The three boys and the other daughter stayed. They do not have to go to the battlefield because the Ukrainian government has exempted them to keep the work going.

“It is important to have them here because there are many boys with military experience, but not so many who have the qualifications for these tasks in the field,” says the father.

One of his sons, Maxim, says that he thought about enlisting.

“I will fight if it is necessary. If they get here, everyone should fight,” he says.

But for now, he is focusing on helping the territorial defense units by working two-hour shifts as a night security guard at checkpoints near the farm.

Oleksei, the engineer in charge of fixing the machinery on the Bilan fields, believes the Russian troops will not reach Odesa.

“I think they are not going to pass, that they are going to go in the other direction,” he says.

Bilan, meanwhile, says he will continue to work and support his government, saying his president “is the only person who has shown Russia his teeth.”

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