99 year old Tatyana grows potatoes


With bags of potatoes and bags with seeds besides them on the street, four ladies are waiting till a car comes to pick them up. ‘This helps us a lot. We have a lot of children to feed’, says one of the ladies named Viktoria. ‘There is no work in the village, but prices in the shops are higher than before’, adds her friend Anastasia. ‘We try to survive’, says the third, Alina. She came with her daughter Veronica (8) to the place where aid workers distribute the seeds and provisions supplied by worldpartners.

In Snihurivka, a village in the southern province Mykolajiv close to Kherson, everyone grows their own produce: In a vegetable garden next to their house, like Viktoria and Anastatia, or on a few acres of land close to the village, like Alina. She had a small farm that provided her with income and produce before the war. ‘The strawberries were amazing’, smiles here daughter Veronica. ‘We don’t have them this year’ says here mom with regret.

Her farm barely functions. The strawberry plants did not survive the last year of war. For eight months Snihurivka was occupied by the Russians; there was heavy fighting in the area. Most women and children, like the foursome, fled the village. The houses near the fields of Alina were damaged; and because large parts of the fields are not yet demined, she does not dare to plough.  Besides, there is no market, only half of the inhabitants returned since the liberation last fall. The farm implements got destroyed, so the potatoes will be planted manually. ‘With pleasure’, smiles Alina. ‘We are very happy that we can take action’, says Viktoria.

The farm implements got destroyed, so the potatoes will be planted manually.

The potatoes come in handy for the elderly too. Many retired people stayed behind during the occupation of the village. They barely survived. Like 99-year-old Tatyana. The aid workers politely knock on her garden gate, but because everyone knows that the lady is hard of hearing, they immediately push the gate open. “We have potatoes for you”, they tell her. The woman, dressed in a blue apron with hearts and her head covered with a colourful headscarf, shuffles along with a stick; her eyes are bright in her wrinkled face. She laughs. “Thank you,” she says, pointing to her pantry where the bags are deposited. “You are too kind. Thank you.”

Tatjana will turn 100 in September. Like the others, she always produced her own food. She kept a couple of cows, a coop full of chickens, but also geese and turkeys. In the vegetable garden she grew cabbage, lettuce, peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes. Now her aging body can not carry on with the work. “It still feels unusual for me not to be able to work on my land. The garden is full of grass.” Fortunately, she receives assistance from a social worker, Lyuda, who does the shopping and cooks for her. She will take care of the potatoes.

“It still feels unusual for me not to be able to work on my land. The garden is full of grass.”

The occupation was a difficult time for Tatyana. The Russians didn’t bother her — “I’m just an old granny, who cares about me?” — but she got no help either. The lack of food reminded her of the famine in the 1930s. As a teenager she picked up the leftover potatoes from the field, which her mother used to bake cookies. The rotting remains of apples and pears were good for a kind of jam. “I survived back then; now I will too,” smiles the woman, who says she did not feel famished. However, the fighter jets did frighten her. “Scary when they flew over… Shwooooeeeem.” The sound reminded Tatyana of the bombings during the Second World War. “You want to run, but you don’t know where to hide.”

Due to her deafness, Tatjana cannot hear the shelling very well. That does not apply to the four younger ladies, who heard a missile strike this morning — even though the front is now about sixty kilometers from Snihurivka. “We will rebuild our village,” says Alina, loading the sacks into the car. The seed potatoes will go into the ground immediately, she says; in the province of Kherson, the climate is suitable for growing potatoes twice a season. “I look forward to the moment when we can harvest.”