Odessa farmers sound the alarm over lockdown: ‘It’s an existential issue’ | Ukraine

IIn a field near Odessa, Igor Shumeko points to where a Russian rocket landed near his farmhouse. It blew the glass off his window. Three other missiles landed on a nearby plot but did not explode. “I was on my land when the invasion started. The Russians thought we were slaves. But our people would kick them out,” Sumeko predicted.

Meanwhile, the 42-year-old farmer admits that his industry is facing a host of war-related problems. The biggest question is what to do with this season’s crop, which is currently planted on his 1,000 hectares. Wheat will be harvested in late June and July. Next are sunflowers in August and September.

Before the Russian attack, Shoemeko would load the truck with grain. It will be transported from his village of Velykyi Dalnyk to Odessa, Ukraine’s largest commercial port, 15 miles away. From there, the food continued on boats across the Black Sea. Food in Ukraine helps feed some 400 million people. It went to Egypt, Tunisia and other places.

Local farmer Igor Shumeyko
Local farmer Igor Shumeyko said he ran out of fertilizer, which used to be brought in from Odessa. Photo: The Guardian

However, since February 24, this sea traffic has completely ceased. Russia blocked and occupied all Ukrainian seaports. It occupied Mariupol and Berdyansk in the Sea of ​​Azov (now a de facto Russian lake) and captured the strategic base Snake Island, allowing it to control shipping in and out of the Dardanelles.

Ukraine can no longer export its agricultural products. About 22 million tons of food are stuck. Many farmers say they have nowhere to store this summer’s harvest. Others are building makeshift shelters. Shumeyko said he ran out of fertilizer, which had been brought in from Odessa. His last bag of ammonium nitrate is stored next to his red tractor.

The U.N.’s World Food Program has warned that millions of people will die if Ukrainian ports remain blocked. Vladimir Putin has offered to open sea corridors, but only if the West lifts what he calls “politically motivated” sanctions. He accused Ukraine of exploiting its ports. Kyiv said Moscow was guilty of extortion, and Foreign Minister Dmitro Kuleba called on the world to act.

Sanctions on Russia have no connection to the unfolding global food crisis. The sole reason for shortages, rising prices, and threat of hunger is the Russian military physically blocking 22 million tons of Ukrainian food exports in our seaports. Demand Moscow to end its blockade.

— Dmytro Kuleba (@DmytroKuleba) May 28, 2022

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Sanctions on Russia have nothing to do with the ongoing global food crisis. The only reason for shortages, rising prices and the threat of starvation is the actual blockade of 22 million tons of Ukrainian food exports by the Russian military in our seaports. Ask Moscow to end the blockade.

— Dmytro Kuleba (@DmytroKuleba) May 28, 2022

The topic is now at the top of the international agenda.exist a call on saturdayAfterwards, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Schultz tried unsuccessfully to persuade Putin to lift the lockdown.in his night video address On Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he discussed the crisis and related military aid with Boris Johnson.

Ministry of Defense point out Ukraine deployed sea mines “due to the continued credible threat of a Russian amphibious attack from the Black Sea”. It said Moscow had falsely tried to portray itself as a “reasonable actor”. In effect, it is using global food security to advance its “political goals” and “blame the West for failure”.

Latest Defence Intelligence update on the situation in Ukraine – 29 May 2022

Find out more about the UK government's response: https://t.co/uOVOzCZE8O

🇺🇦 #StandWithUkraine 🇺🇦 pic.twitter.com/f1hL0W2AGs

— Ministry of Defence 🇬🇧 (@DefenceHQ) May 29, 2022

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Former Ukrainian Defense Minister Andrey Zagorodnyuk said Russia would undermine any maritime deal it agreed to and “sink one or two Ukrainian ships”. He suggested that Turkey and Britain send ships to implement what amounts to a “no-fly zone” in the waterway in the northwest of the Black Sea. “We need to lift the blockade militarily,” he said.

“Ukraine is an agricultural superpower,” he added. “This is our first problem. It’s a matter of survival as a country. Without food, the economy stops and dies. It’s not just about us. It’s about the global situation. We’re talking about huge proportions here. hunger.”

Village head and farmer Denis Tkachenko
Village chief and farmer Denis Tkachenko wants to lift the blockade and believes Putin will not attack British ships. Photo: Luke Harding/The Guardian

On Saturday, Denis Tkachenko, the head of Velykyi Dalnyk, met mayors of other Odessa regions to discuss the lockdown. There is no easy answer. Kremlin ally Belarus is unlikely to facilitate road transport without lifting Western sanctions. Poland uses a different gauge than Ukraine, making rail transport expensive.

Meanwhile, the Russians twice fired cruise missiles at the Transnistria estuary bridge in Zatoka, Odessa region, closing important land routes to the southwest and Romania. A small-scale solution is to ship grains to the Ukrainian port of Izmail on the Danube. But at a time when diesel prices have risen, it has been costly for farmers.

“It used to be easy. Odessa has a lot of traffic. It’s Ukraine’s main port,” Tkachenko said. He described initial plans for a UK-Turkey humanitarian sea corridor as “realistic”, adding: “Putin will not attack British ships.” He said his 100-hectare farm grows wheat, sunflowers and strawberries and uses water for irrigation From Transnistria, through a Soviet-era network of canals.

In Odessa, the harbor is eerily quiet. Ukrainian troops blocked the port area. The historic center of the city has sandbags and checkpoints, as well as a statue of Catherine the Great, founder of the Odessa Empire. The Potemkin Steps – made famous by Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein in his 1925 film “Battleship Potemkin” – is no longer open to the public.

Potemkin steps into Odessa, topped by a statue of Catherine the Great
Before the war broke out, the Potemkin family stepped into Odessa, topped by a statue of Catherine the Great. Photo: Loop Images/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Russia’s apparent plan to attack Odessa from the sea has yet to materialize. Meanwhile, life goes on. Couples, dog walkers and kids on scooters roamed up and down Esplanade Boulevard overlooking the harbour. Swifts scream in the sky; the scent of elderflowers fills the air; Pushkin statues inscribe “Odessa Residents”.

Seeing the harbour view, Odessa city council member Peter Obukhov pointed to a row of huge cylinders. He explained that these were granaries, which were full. The crane next to them was idling. Nearby is a rusted three-masted sailing ship, Druzhba, and an old ferry. The Black Sea glistened in the sun. It’s quiet and there are no boats.

The state-owned port and private tugboat companies are Odessa’s largest employers with 5,000 employees. Their salaries contribute to the city’s budget. “Last year’s harvest was difficult to transport by road. We need to lift the blockade,” Obukhov said. “Even if Putin dies and the war stops, it would take half a year for the food we already have to be delivered,” he added.

The Russians have repeatedly fired long-range missiles at Odessa. But it was not damaged by other Russian-speaking Ukrainian cities, including Mariupol and Kharkiv. One explanation is that the Kremlin thinks it has some local support—a view not confirmed by polling data and non-scientific conversations conducted by the Guardian.

Odessa mayor Gennadiy Trukhanov has given up his former Russia-friendly post and is now a Ukrainian patriot. According to Obukhov, who fought against Trukhanov, Moscow still plans to occupy Odessa and create an overland corridor extending to Transnistria, a breakaway pro-Russian republic of Moldova. “Putin wants everything. The same goes for the whole of Ukraine and Moldova,” Obukhov said.

During the first few days of the invasion, Russian troops advancing from Crimea occupied large areas of southern Ukraine. They include the agricultural heartland of the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions. Kyiv said Moscow stole food from local producers as well as agricultural equipment and agricultural drones. Satellite photos show that thousands of tons of cargo have been loaded onto ships in Crimea and sold abroad, including to Syria.

Satellite imagery shows a ship loading grain in the port of Sevastopol
Satellite imagery shows a ship loading grain in the port of Sevastopol. Photo: Maxar Technologies/Reuters

Hennadiy Lahuta, head of the Ukrainian Military Administration in Kherson, said some farmers were cooperating with Russia. Others didn’t or couldn’t grow because of fights. “It is certain that the Russians are transporting grain and grain from the Kherson region. The traffic jams on the road to Crimea are already kilometers long,” he said last week.

This theft has painful historical echoes. In 1932-33, some 4 million people died as a result of Stalin’s state-orchestrated famine in Ukraine. Communist law enforcement teams entered villages and individual houses and confiscated grain, seeds, cattle and vegetables. Farmers starved to death. The famine – known as the Great Famine – has a political aspect. It was designed to remove support for Ukrainian independence.

Back in Velykyi Dalnyk, Shumeyko said he would sell his wheat and vegetables in the domestic market. This is a contribution to the war effort. He says he enjoys his work, which includes spending time outdoors among fields, swallows and wild roses. “A bumper harvest requires professionalism and crop protection. When you bring it in, you have a great feeling in your soul.”