Ukraine dairy farmer forced to slaughter cows for food as Russian tanks bombard city
for Agri View
Running a dairy farm in southeast Ukraine is currently a massive challenge, especially when there are Russian tanks hunkered in not far away firing shells at the city.
But that’s exactly the daily struggle farmer Andrii Pastushenko, 39, has to endure with his staff, who continue doing their jobs but are working in fear.
Andrii left the farm a few days ago to take his son to safety across the border with Slovakia and cannot get back to the farm, as intense fighting in the region has broken out.
The staff remaining on the farm are slaughtering the cows so that they and local villagers have something to eat. They are also turning the stored grain supply into porridge and the cows’ milk into other dairy products as extra food. The Russians are taking what food they can from the farm too.
Russian soldiers initially took control of Kherson a few weeks ago, but the Ukrainian forces are fighting back to regain control.
Andrii’s farm is only 20 kilometers south of Kherson, where he already saw the smoke from bombs and destroyed vehicles bellowing from the city.
Speaking from safety in western Ukraine Andrii said, “Just one week ago we had 30 Russian tanks just a few metres from our farm border, but now only three remain. I left a few days ago to take my son to safety over the border to Slovakia and I can’t get back to the farm.
“The Ukrainian forces are fighting hard to get rid of the Russians in the region so I must wait until the area is safe. The staff are ok at the moment,” he said.
Andrii’s wife and other young son had previously fled to their home town Zhytomyr in the northwest of the country, 575 kilometers (357 miles) from Kherson.
Andrii is a former university lecturer that taught the German language and started working at the farm company, Dnipro Ltd, as an interpreter before becoming a director of the farm.
He said, “Back in 2008 a few German investors bought the farm out of bankruptcy and I acted as their interpreter. A few months later I became a director of the farm myself.
“I have a wife and two sons. The older son is 15 and studies at the agrarian lyceum in Uman, central Ukraine. He had a vacation before the war started and came to stay at my place in the south.
“My wife Liudmyla and younger son Matvii, 9, are in Zhytomyr, just 100 kilometers from Kyiv,” he said.
The farm extends to 1,500 hectares of arable land, including 500 hectares of irrigated land. The farm run 350 Holstein Friesian cows and 400 offspring.
“Before the war started our cows were giving over ten tonnes (2.2 tons) of milk per day or 31.5 litres (8.3 gallons) per cow per day,” said Andrii. “Now we have had to cut their feed as it is running out. We only feed corn silage and alfalfa to the cows and the milk produced has dropped to around six tonnes (1.3 tons) per day.”
During the winter the animals are kept in the barn, but from April to November they stay in the open yards. Andrii grows corn silage, alfalfa hay, rye silage, barley, corn and barley to feed his animals and has to buy in rapeseed meal, soybean meal, sunflower meal, spent grains, urea, sugar, and minerals to complete the ration.
However, his feed stocks are running low and Andrii is worried the staff won’t be able to get into the fields to prepare for this year’s crop and grass harvests.
Andrii said, “We have about 70 workers. Right now everyone stays on the farm and keeps working. The cows are milked twice per day and we continue to pay our workers’ wages.
“Before the war our milk was sold to the French dairy processor Lactalis in Mykolaiv and we received 45 euro cents per litre ($1.86 per gallon) payment price.
“In the first five days of the war, a milk truck came from Kherson and picked up four tonnes of milk and delivered it to all the city’s hospitals, before distributing the leftovers to the local people.
“Since February 28, Kherson is occupied by the Russians and surrounded, therefore no cars are allowed in or out. In the first ten days we gave away milk worth 50,000 euros ($55,000). Now we are producing our own butter, quark, and cream in the barn and crush our barley supply to make into porridge. We need food as it’s impossible to go out and buy some.
“Now we have someone in every village who comes to the farm and picks up milk and food then distributes it, with the help of the churches,” he said.
Andrii assumes the Russian soldiers will stay on his farm for quite some time, but for now he has to keep the farm going.
He said, “We have our own fodder until harvest, but we don’t know if we will have a harvest. We will need to harvest silage in June for the cows to eat next winter.
“Before the war all areas were fertilized with nitrogen and around 50 hectares of lucerne were drilled. We managed to drill 90 hectares of spring barley during the war.
“We only have one month’s supply of diesel left and we know the Russians are looking for diesel. Seeds of corn and sunflower were paid for in the fall, should have already been delivered but they have not arrived.”
Andrii says the war must end soon but isn’t very hopeful. He said, “Russian civilians don’t understand what’s going on here. Everything they see on TV is lies. Their propaganda tells them everyone is bad, that there are enemies everywhere and only the Russians are good and are kissed by God.
“Negative information about Ukraine has been spread in Russia since 2004, when I was still watching Russian channels. The hatred arose and it took ten years to prepare when Russia attacked us.
“We are not nationalists or fascists. Here in the south, the majority of the people used to speak Russian, but less and less are since 2014. Now they try to speak Ukrainian as a matter of principle.
“I can’t leave. I can’t take my son away. We are trapped here. If I leave, the hungry people will steal and slaughter the cows and other animals. We do that already, but only one cow every two days because we need meat for my employees and the rest of us,” said Andrii.
In the future Andrii says if the Russians stay in his region and create a people’s republic like in Donetsk or Luhansk, he will leave.
He said, “I will leave my house and drive away. I will never live and work under occupiers. I am a free and proud person. Everything will be Ukraine. Long live free Ukraine!”
Many livestock producers are utilizing stockpiled pasture, hay regrowth and warm- or cool-season annuals to extend the grazing season this fall.
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