“Our potato yield will be excellent.”


Farmer Ivan Ivanovich peers into the distance, where black smoke curls up. “Do you see that? That’s an impact. Something is on fire.” Nevertheless, the farmer continues undisturbed with the tour of his lands, which he gives driving his car. “These are my strawberries. Here’s the white cabbage. There the tomatoes… And here are your potatoes”, he points to neat ridges of soil, right next to the road. “We will soon pile more soil on top so that the water is retained better. They are growing well, see?”

Ivan Ivanovich’s 25 acres of land is located in a hamlet five kilometers from the frontline in Zaporizhia, a province in southern Ukraine. The village is surrounded by hills, a beautiful landscape. But the town hall, the crèche and the cultural center have been destroyed. Yet the farmer does not think about stopping. “Look, here are your onions,” he says, pointing to the fresh crop of onions in the next field. “They’re not bad onions, I must say.”

Large explosives are removed by the authorities, but anti-tank mines are not. “We do that ourselves, by hand. This is what Ukrainian farmers are like.”

It is difficult to do business for the farmer. In late March 2022, the military erected a line of defense around his farm; the Russian advance north from Crimea stalled barely five miles away. So the area is full of landmines, especially on the side of the roads and between the rows of trees that border the fields. Large explosives are removed by the authorities, but anti-tank mines are not. “We do that ourselves, by hand. This is what Ukrainian farmers are like.” Unexploded explosives are also scattered in the field. He marks them with a ribbon around it. The work must go on.

In addition to the risk of explosion, the farmer has to deal with shelling. He stops the car at the greenhouses where five employees – a man and four women – are taking a break in the grass. “They are our heroes,” says Ivan Ivanovich. The cover of the greenhouse recently blew off due to an explosion. “Is everyone doing all right?” he asks his employees. There is an affirmative answer. Three days ago, his farm workers did not dare to go to work: the canning factory had been hit by shells. There are large holes in the building where the farmer has tomatoes and gherkins canned. “We urgently need to mow here,” he points to the grassland next to it. “But that is not possible. Shots are fired here every day.”

No budget for potatoes and onions this year

Due to the mines and shelling, Ivan Ivanovich has only ten hectares of his land available. Prices are also dropping. That’s because of the export problem. The intermediary to whom he sold his product transported it by sea. Because the ports of Mariupol and Kherson are inaccessible due to the war, everything goes through Odessa, which results in long waiting times. “Last year I sold my grain three times cheaper.” Storage is not an option. Last summer his barn burned down after a mortar attack, causing the contents – grain and hay – to be lost. The only option is to sell.

The farmer therefore had no budget for potatoes and onions this year. The obtained seeds and seed potatoes are therefore a “great support in this situation”, says Ivan Ivanovich. Instead of his land lying fallow, he now produces for his close surroundings and for sale. “The potato yield will be excellent. The seed potatoes are fine, and the rain came at the right time.” According to the farmer, the potato is excellent for soups and purees.

“All roads lead to Rome. And my farm is Rome,”

The fact that the farmer can sow and plant fully is vital for the environment. “All roads lead to Rome. And my farm is Rome,” he says. Ivan Ivanovich’s farm is the only serious source of employment for the remaining villagers — and there are many of them, because the inhabitants of the Zaporizhia province are tied to their land. Even though four employees of his farm were injured last year, most of them don’t think about leaving: they don’t have the means to escape the war zone. They not only receive a salary, but also share in the proceeds: they receive a substantial load of the cucumbers and strawberries that the five employees pick in the greenhouse. “We have no choice. The work must continue. We will also harvest again this year.”