Ukraine’s farm of horrors: 2,000 dead cows and a trail of mines explaining the devastation of agriculture in the country | International

About twenty warehouses with sheet metal roofs shine in the town of Shestakove (Kharkov region), a dozen kilometers from Russia, thanks to the bird’s-eye view that Google Maps allows. But the image is not updated to the times of war in Ukraine. Six of these elongated buildings, stables and warehouses of the Agrosvit farm, from the Agromol dairy brand, have been blown up and another half dozen have been damaged after air strikes, missiles from across the border and fire. artillery.

This is stated by one of those responsible, Sergei Yatsenko, who assures that, after being attacked, the farm was occupied by the invaders. This is just a small example of the damage the sector suffers in a war in which hundreds of farms, fields and silos have been destroyed. The occupation forces have also stolen machinery and part of the cereal production of a country that is considered one of the breadbaskets of the world, denounces kyiv. The invasion that began on February 24 has caused losses in agriculture and livestock in Ukraine worth more than 40,000 million euros, according to government estimates.

With your feet in Shestakove, in the Vovchansk district, it is easy to see the devastation. The school building is a mountain of rubble and many of the houses built on either side of the road have been hit or partially destroyed. Back at the farm, huge metal jumbles welcome you. The war has ruined the main business of the town, an agricultural and livestock farm where, as the main part of the business, 25,000 now-vacant hectares were cultivated and where, in addition, 2,000 of the 3,000 cows have died, of which 1,400 were milkmaids. The auction, after leaving it almost destroyed from the air, was the occupation of the facilities for a month by Russian troops.

Up to 2,000 of the farm’s 3,000 cows died early in the Russian invasion.Luis Vega

The attacks took place between February, from the 28th, when one of the employees died, until late March, Yatsenko details. The occupation of the farm, from April 3 until they were evicted by the Ukrainian military on May 5. “Whatever was still useful, they took away. Everything, ”he comments. Yatsenko insists in answers to the reporter’s questions that none of the damage was caused by the local army when facing the Russians.

The attack on the Shestakove farm is a violation of the Geneva Convention, which regulates the protection of victims in armed conflicts, points out the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), based in Washington, which accuses the Russian president , Vladimir Putin, of using the hunger of the population as a weapon of war. The evidence points to a direct and intentional attack by the Russian Army on these facilities, according to the analysis carried out by the CSIS of the satellite images captured by the US company Maxar. “The nature of the damage observed and the lack of craters within the facility suggests, although is not conclusive, a precision strike with small air-dropped munitions. The surrounding residential areas do not appear to have suffered damage, indicating that the farm was intentionally attacked by Russian forces,” reads the analysis signed, among others, by Caitlin Welsh, director of the Global Food Security Program at this center of studies.

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Sergei Yatsenko, along with remains of ammunition left by the Russians after the month they occupied the facilities.
Sergei Yatsenko, along with remains of ammunition left by the Russians after the month they occupied the facilities.Luis Vega

In the corner of one of the ships there is something similar to a powder magazine with dozens of boxes of ammunition, projectiles and missile remains. Just outside, the charred skeleton of a truck that the occupants could not take with them in their escape. Field food rations with the logo of the Russian Army are still scattered on the ground. Also dozens of small iron arrows that are scattered by artillery projectiles with the intention of indiscriminately reaching victims and that the Russians have already used on fronts such as Bucha or Irpin.

Before being expelled by the local troops, in addition to being painted on the walls, they left the fields of the farm mined and impassable, as EL PAÍS has been able to verify. The material damage alone amounts to about 25 million euros, estimates Yatsenko, 36, responsible for the operation, during the visit to the site.

Only 30 or 40 of the 300 workers have been able to resume their activity. In recent weeks, some cows have started to be milked, but the amount of 40,000 liters of milk a day before the invasion is an unthinkable figure right now, Yatsenko says. After the end of the occupation, the 1,000 cows that survived were transferred to a farm in the Poltava region. A few weeks ago they were brought back to Shestakove, where the birth of the first calves opens a small window of hope.

An employee works with cows that have survived the war at the Agrosvit farm in Shestakove, where 2,000 of the 3,000 animals died.
An employee works with cows that have survived the war at the Agrosvit farm in Shestakove, where 2,000 of the 3,000 animals died.Luis Vega

While they manage to recover the rhythm prior to the invasion, Agromol’s solution, Yatsenko explains, has been to purchase milk from other companies and thus be able to continue manufacturing the different types of milk, butter or yogurt with which they supply 130 stores at the Kharkiv plant. in that city.

Even today, the few employees that are seen live with the unremoved corpses of some of the cows. They are basically skin and bones where even flies no longer settle. Some remain rickety with their heads on the feeders, where the attack on duty caught them. Other animals were shot by the blast wave onto the rooftops. And others flew off when they stepped on one of the mines and ended up on the roofs.

Near the stables, employees are seen working on the power lines, but power has not been restored yet, says the farm manager. For a few seconds he roars a large generator in front of one of the stables, but soon stops. Yatsenko assures that they consume 80 liters of fuel every hour.

Some of the metal arrows launched on the farm in artillery shells and that Russia has already used on fronts such as the one in the town of Bucha, near kyiv.
Some of the metal arrows launched on the farm in artillery shells and that Russia has already used on fronts such as the one in the town of Bucha, near kyiv.Luis Vega

Most of those more than 40,000 million euros of losses in the sector, up to 34,250, represent indirect damage. They correspond to the loss of income after the decrease in production, the drop in prices in the local market and the extra cost that companies have to face due to the armed conflict. There are another 6,600 million direct damages, where machinery bears the brunt. These figures are obtained from calculations by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Kyiv School of Economics (KSE), updated to mid-September.

Before saying goodbye, Sergei Yatsenko shows, without hiding a certain melancholy, a video recorded from the air before the war with the farm fields full of cereals and traversed by a huge modern combine. The times of the production of corn, wheat, sunflower or sugar beet are now a mirage. He also remembers the last celebration, the summer of last year, of the Agromol Festival, a great rural party for neighbors and employees where straw alpacas made up the stage, the bars and even a huge maze.

After the Russian occupation of the Agrosvit farm in Shestakove, the Kremlin troops left the fields strewn with mines that have already caused the death of some animals (like the one in the photo).
After the Russian occupation of the Agrosvit farm in Shestakove, the Kremlin troops left the fields strewn with mines that have already caused the death of some animals (like the one in the photo).Luis Vega

The reality today in Shevstakove is that of anti-tank mines planted in the fields that hold the crops hostage, where weeds reign and the panic of the workers. “It’s a big problem that we can’t grow crops or feed animals. Or that we are the ones who end up manipulating the mines”, laments Yatsenko in front of a dozen artifacts that have been located by state security teams, but have not yet been removed. He complains about the slow pace, but the authorities acknowledge that cleaning all the artifacts could take a decade.

Unlike other points in the Kharkov region, there is not a single warning sign on the road, as it runs inside the farm. The remains of a cow that put its hoof in one of the explosives remains a few meters in the field as a clear sign that this almost invisible danger is very real.

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