Farmers in Ukraine risk their lives to clear their fields of explosives

Farmers in Ukraine risk their lives to clear their fields of explosives

Farmers in Ukraine have sounded the alarm ahead of the spring sowing season, calling for help to demine their fields, said a representative from the farmers’ association.

The country’s agriculture sector has been hit hard by Russia’s invasion.

A recent assessment by the Kyiv School of Economy found that the direct damage to Ukraine’s agriculture sector currently stands at €6.14 billion, while the overall losses for the sector by the end of 2022 amounted to more than €36.9 billion.

Dubbed “the breadbasket of the world”, Ukraine’s affordable supplies of wheat, barley, and sunflower oil are crucial to Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia, where people are going hungry.

But demining services are overstretched, with infrastructure and civilian homes prioritised over farms. However, many farmers living in areas that are now free from Russian occupation say they can’t wait.

They are risking their lives to clear their land of explosives themselves ahead of the critical spring planting season.

“If he is a one-person farmer, he does this at his own risk. Going to the field, clearing it. Some people blow up,” said farmer Oleh Uskhalo.

But he says they have little choice as they live off the land. Last year, they didn’t harvest the crops because of the war, and many missed the autumn seeding period too.

“Our situation is that we are a business. We hire workers. I cannot send them to a field where I know mines and bombs are. To send a person to blow themselves up? I can’t do that,” he said.

In addition, farmers must cope with soaring production and transportation costs caused by Moscow’s blockade of many Black Sea ports.

The dual crisis is causing many of them to cut back on sowing crops. Bottlenecks in shipping grain by land and sea are also creating losses, with expectations of a 20 to 30 per cent reduction in grain output.

Like many other farmers across Ukraine, Uskhalo says his risk of going bankrupt is very real. With his tractors damaged and his warehouse destroyed by a fire, the costs are just too high.

“We can go on for another year. Repair the equipment, we can do it for one more year. But without government help, without compensation for the harvest of last year, which has burned down,” he said.

“They promised compensation, but once the war is over, that’s what people say. If the fields will not be demined, we will not seed them.”