Ukrainian farmer restarts


Tatjana Sus gives a tour of her company. She shows machines that sterilize vegetables, mix salads, produce tomato puree and pickle raw coleslaw. There is not much activity at the moment. The largest room is filled with humanitarian aid. She collects it and distributes it to refugees. With some help from the Netherlands, Tatjana Sus hopes to get her business going again. “A blessing came, in the form of two tons of potatoes,” she says. “They are very good. We don’t know such potatoes in Ukraine.”

“We had a good proction line. It suddenly came to a standstill.”

The Russian invasion in February last year was a disaster for this farm, close to Zaporizhia (city in southern Ukraine). ‘We had a good proction line. It suddenly came to a standstill.’ Tatjana Sus is specialized in preserving vegetables. In her own region it is too hot in the summer and there is a lack of water. So every year she invested the proceeds of her own grain fields in the Kherson region. Her colleagues grew tomatoes, eggplants and peppers there. They grew abundantly on the marshy ground.

She processed these vegetables in Zaporizhia. Preserving is an old tradition in Ukraine, and Tatjana Sus is good at it. Piles of cans with red and green tomatoes, red and yellow bellpeppers prove it. The tomato puree that is in buckets, is not only used for ketchup, but also for soups like borstsj, the famous Ukranian beet soup. Coleslaws are popular in Ukraine. The farmer produces them for the local markt. Her products go to two large supermarket chains, both with dozens of branches in the region. “That was more than enough for us.”

Nobody sold anything

Then the war started. Tatjana’s first priority was the safety of her family. Het daughter, the agronomist of the farm, fled with her kids to the Netherlands. Tatjana stayed and focussed some months on helping refugees and fellow farmers. She could not sell her grain, so she had financial loss. Also the supply stopped: Kherson was occupied by the Russians. ‘The wholesale was completely empty. Nobody sold anything.’ Importing goods from abroad was impossible, because the harbors were closed. Her contract with one of the supermarket chains was ended.

Tatjana Sus was affected on three fronts. Just before the war she had received a scholarship to improve her production system. She had to advance half of the money. Building materials for a lab and a new cold store were order, old facilities broken down. But just before the factory would supply the materials, it was destroyed. The scholarship fund pauzed the project and her money hasn’t been returned yet. ‘War hit us just at the beginning of our changes. After that, everything went south.’ 


Now that a part of the Kherson region is de-occupied, the farmer wants to restart her business. ‘We have people to feed.’ Besides her husband, her son, cousin and son in law work in the company. In the peak season, local workers come to help. Tatjana Sus wants to partly switch to other products, like the potatoes and use her own land for it. Because she does not have the right machines, most of the work is done by hand. That takes a lot of time and is not economicaly viable.  “We don’t work out of hope, but against the odds”

Tatjana Sus uses Dutch seeds for almost 40 years

The Dutch support gives some space to breathe. Tatjana Sus works with Dutch seeds for almost 40 years. They really grow well in the Kherson region. The soil is comparable. To test if the Dutch seed potatoes do well on her own land, Tatjana started to experiment with her neighbours and fellow farmers. They plant the potatoes in different types of soil and give water in different ways. ‘The potatoes seem to be fit for salads’ is her first conclusion. ‘It will be easy to produce and we can supply for supermarkets again!’

Second hand is no problem

Het daughter in the Netherlands still contributes to the farm. She looks for machine that could be usefull on the farm. For example, she found a machine that can cut vegetables. Second hand is no problem, Tatjana emphasizes.  She shows a cement mixer that she has been using for years and years to mix salads. An invention of her husband. ‘He always says that he is lazy and does not want to work with his hands. So it is easier to come up with a machine that does the work for him.’ The seeds from WorldPartners – carrot, eggplant and cucumber – are saved for next season. ‘That I have these seeds in stock gives me hope. Hope that next year something good might happen.’