Russian invasion forces Ukrainian farms to become food factories for army and cities

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Ukrainian farms are turning into small-scale slaughterhouses, dairies and flour mills to ensure food for their people as Russia’s invasion of the country intensifies.

Farmer Kees Huizinga said without an immediate end to the Russian invasion, agricultural production would plummet in a country known as Europe’s breadbasket.

“The food supply chain is broken, so processing doesn’t work, after distribution doesn’t work, then stores empty out,” he said.

“So that creates local food shortages, especially in cities.”

Dutch-born Huizinga started farming in Ukraine 20 years ago and now produces cattle, pigs, grain and vegetables on his property 200 kilometers south of Kiev.

“We need and want to share what we have with others, preparing food for the townspeople who are in bomb shelters,” he said.

Mr. Huizinga is slaughtering his pigs and the meat is being packed into jars by local volunteers at a nearby school.

This pork was canned and packaged, ready to feed the army and those taking refuge in the cities.(Provided by: Kees Huizinga)

The refugees work in his house using flour ground from his grain to make dumplings for the army and townspeople.

Another farmer, Andriii Pasushenko, became a small dairy processor on his property 35 kilometers west of Russian-controlled Kherson.

He milks 350 cows on his 1,500 hectare farm, usually supplying the milk to French processor Lactalis.

Before the conflict, the 10 tonnes of milk it produced each day was used to make butter sold under the President brand all over the world.

But now his employees make curd, cottage cheese, sour cream and butter, and send them to those in need.

three women surround a bench, packing handfuls of cheese into plastic bags
Andrii Pastushenko’s dairy farm workers process cheese to supply surrounding towns, hospitals and churches.(Provided by: Andrii Pastuskenko)

“During the first days of the war, a milk transporter brought four tons of milk to hospitals, nursing homes and orphanages in Kherson and the rest of the milk was distributed free of charge, one basement per person”, Mr. Pastushenko said.

“But now Kherson is completely blocked … all the shops are empty, pharmacies too. The only thing I saw [that] that you can get in the city’s supermarkets is alcohol, because alcohol is not the most important grocery item for people right now.”

Mr. Pastushenko also grinds his grain, distributes it for free or sells it for a fraction of the normal price.

“We also started a device a few days ago that grinds barley, wheat and corn, and we make groats,” he said.

“So it ends up being ground grain that you can boil and make porridge, it’s a popular food and was even popular before the war in Ukraine.”

a man wearing a hoodie and beanie takes a selfie photo in a low pasture crop
Mr Pastushenko’s farm is located 20 kilometers west of Kherson, a town now controlled by Russian forces.(Provided: Andrii Pastushenko)

Imminent shortage

Every day that the war continues, Mr. Huizinga and Mr. Pastushenko grow increasingly concerned about their ability to continue producing food.

“It is difficult to get fertilizers, fuel, seeds, all these supply lines have been cut off,” Huizinga said.

two canisters sit on a table, pouring milk from two sprouts into steel buckets
Ukrainian dairy farmers cannot sell their milk to processors, so they process it on the farm.(Provided: Andrii Pastushenko)

Mr. Pastushenko has still not been paid for the 80 tonnes of grain he sold before the war, and he has not received the sunflower and corn seeds he paid for in September of the year last.

“I understand that in order to pay the salaries of my 70 workers, I already have to start raising money to pay these people one way or another, so that they can at least buy something,” said said Mr. Pastushenko.

“I can give away this milk no questions asked, but I understand that in the next few weeks, months or maybe even years, I will not be able to buy high quality feed needed for high herd productivity.

a man wearing a cap stands in front of his dairy cattle, which are eating from a water trough
Mr Pastushenko is struggling to pay his workers and feed his livestock, as fodder and crop supply chains are broken in Ukraine.(Provided by: Andrii Patushenko)

Short of money and food for his cattle, Mr. Pastushenko was also forced by his situation to slaughter the unproductive cattle in his herd.

Dairy research group InfoAgra revealed on Thursday evening that dairy production in Ukraine was 50-60% lower than it was before the war.

But the Ukrainian government included canned cheese, butter and milk in a program designed to improve food distribution, according to analyst Maks Fasteyev.

Global issues

Together, Ukraine, Russia, Romania and Bulgaria account for about a third of world wheat exports each year.

Ukraine is the leading producer of sunflower oil, as well as one of the main exporters of corn and barley.

It is the fourth largest external supplier of food products to the European Union, exporting 52% of its maize, 23% of its vegetable oils and 19% of its soft wheat (low gluten).

a man stands between two long rows of dairy cows in a large shed
Mr Huizinga warns political leaders that there will be global consequences if Ukraine cannot plant its crops this year.(Provided by: Kees Huizinga)

Mr. Huizinga is currently in the Netherlands, representing an organization of 1,100 Ukrainian farmers, and trying to warn political leaders of the global consequences of a long conflict.

“The rest of the world, particularly the Middle East, North Africa and part of Asia, is going to feel this food supply shortfall,” he said.

The price of wheat has surged in recent weeks and agribusiness finance firm Rabobank reports it could double.

“If they double, as the reports suggest, I don’t want to think about what will happen to people in the Middle East and North Africa,” Mr Huizinga said.

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An English teacher-turned-soldier speaks from the frontline in Kiev.
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