It is planting season in Ukraine, one of the world’s granaries. But this year, like fuel and fertilizer, local farmers need body armor and deminers to destroy the bombs that have fallen on their fields.
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In Igor Tsiapa’s, in the southwest of the country, an unexploded rocket lies on a patch of black soil, left intact while the rest of his cornfield has already been plowed and planted.
“Ten days ago we first saw the projectile, but we didn’t touch this part of the field, we continued to prepare the seedlings,” explains the aspiring 60-year-old farmer, a few meters away from deminers in action .
“Everything has to be done on time if we want to have a more or less correct harvest (…) We had to keep working,” continues Igor Tsiapa, whose farm is located around Grygorivka, a village in the Zaporizhia region.
Since the start of the war, Ukrainian peasants have been at the forefront of the Russian invasion, which left large quantities of mines, grenades and unexploded missiles all over the country.
There is a high risk that one of these devices will be activated. According to the police, the latest accident took place in the Kiev region on Wednesday. A farmer driving his tractor hit a mine and seriously injured his arms and leg.
Maria Kolesnyk, of the analysis company ProAgro Group, estimates that about 20 similar incidents have been registered since the start of the war, without it being known how many people have died.
“In today’s farming community, the most sought-after profession is that of sapper,” the analyst added to AFP: “We desperately need the help of the international community, because Ukrainian professionals work 24 hours a day. day week.”
Race against the clock
In Igor Tsiapa’s field, the team of deminers, blue helmets with the Ukrainian Ministry of Emergency Situations on their heads, placed small, fist-sized explosive stones along the rocket, before shoveling a mound of earth above.
“Unexploded ordnance has been found and destroyed every day since the beginning of the war,” said team member Dmytro Polichchouk.
“When the farmers started working in the fields, we got regular calls about the presence of new machines,” he adds, specifying that his team destroys up to three a day during this sowing period.
And farmers don’t always have the patience to wait for the miners to arrive. They are regularly absent when Dmytro Polichchouk and his colleagues arrive, having only marked the presence of the bombs with a stick decorated with a plastic bottle or bag.
A dangerous practice: There’s no guarantee an undamaged missile won’t explode, as some are equipped with a self-destruct device, warns Polichchouk.
But farmers in Ukrainian regions not occupied by Russia do not have time to wait. In this important region for the grain supply of the planet, Igor Tsiapa believes that farmers who may have a duty to take over from those blocked by the occupation.
“We have a double responsibility and a double pressure for a good harvest. There is no active fighting here, so we can work,” he said.
Ukraine is the world’s largest producer of sunflower oil and is also among the top five exporters of corn and wheat in the world. And the disruptions caused by war, forced displacement of farmers and fuel shortages are a source of concern in many countries that depend on exports.
In Igor Tsiapa’s field, the deminers’ work ends abruptly with the controlled explosion of the rocket, which releases a plume of black smoke and echoes in the valley.
As soon as calm returns, the farmer jumps into his red van and drives off. He goes back to work.