By: ALENA BEKATORAS – Associated Press

NOVAMIKOLAVKA, Ukraine (AP) — An unexploded rocket sticks out of a field and another is embedded in the ground of a farm. Workers found a cluster bomb while clearing weeds, and a gaping hole in the roof of a shrapnel-damaged livestock barn.

On this large eastern Ukrainian farm, whose fields and buildings have been hit so many times by mortars, rockets, rockets and cluster bombs, all work has stopped, so that the workers cannot sow the soil, which is strewn with craters. to harvest crops such as wheat.

“It will be difficult, very difficult” to return to sowing and harvesting, – believes Viktar Lubinets, who is involved in plant growing at the “Veras” farm. Even when the fighting is over, the first thing to do is clear the fields of unexploded ordnance and shrapnel.

And the fighting is far from over. The roar of an incoming shell fills the air, a nearby detonation shakes the ground and sends a plume of black smoke into the sky. Lubinets barely shudders.

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“I got used to it. The first couple of days were scary, but now a person gets used to everything,” said the 55-year-old man, scattering behind him. “And we have to work. If we give up on all this, we will give up, other farmers will give up, what will happen then?”

Agriculture is the most important part of the economy of Ukraine, which accounted for about 20% of gross national product and 40% of export earnings before the war, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The country is often described as granary of Europe and millions rely on its affordable grain supply and sunflower oil in Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia many are already facing hunger.

But Invasion of Russia at the end of February struck a heavy blowcausing damage to agricultural land, crops, livestock, machinery and storage facilities, as well as serious obstacles to transport and export.

The FAO estimated in July that preliminary damage to the industry is between $4.3 billion and $6.4 billion — between 15% and 22% of the total cost Agriculture of pre-war Ukraineestimated at $29 billion.

The Veras farm is a vivid example. His 5,700 hectares (14,085 acres) of land were usually grown in wheat, barley, corn and sunflowers, and he had 1,500 head of cattle.

But its location made it particularly vulnerable in what was largely an artillery war. It lies almost on a straight line between c the strategic city of Izyumcaptured by Russian troops in early April and recaptured by Ukraine in September, and Kramatorskthe largest city in the eastern Donetsk region, which is still in the hands of Ukraine.

Lubinets says the farm was fired upon 15 to 20 times, and he lost count of how many times the fields were hit. A granary was shelled, a power station was destroyed, several rockets fell on a cattle shed – empty, because the livestock were sold off at the beginning of the war. Of the pre-war workforce of 100 employees, most were evacuated and only about 20 remained.

The workers had time to sow wheat, but they did not have time to harvest it. Crops were burned during the July 2 bombing.

Lubinets was devastated. As an agronomist, he looked forward to studying the results of the five new varieties of wheat they had planted as part of an annual yield study.

“All that research work was destroyed,” he said. “See how I can feel? How can a person feel when you wanted to do something and someone came and ruined it?”

Some farms in the area were more fortunate. Nearly 10 kilometers (six miles) southwest of Novomykolaivka, a harvester moves methodically up and down a field, cutting dried sunflowers from the stalks and dumping their black seeds into waiting trucks.

The war creates a stark background. The car was injured by shrapnel from an exploding rocket, and a nearby field was mined. Helicopters fly over sunflowers and corn, while fighter jets fly low over the grassy plains.

Agricultural workers, taking a break for lunch in the field, do not pay attention to the blows of distant shelling.

“It became very difficult and scary to work during the war, because you don’t know what and where to expect,” says 36-year-old worker Maksim Onyshka. “War has never brought anything good. Only grief and pity.”

Director of the farm “KramAgroSvit” with an area of ​​3,640 hectares, Siarhei Kurynny, said that it was risky to sow sunflowers in May, not knowing whether the field would be swallowed by the front.

“We saw military actions with naked eyes,” Kurinni said. “So there was a risk as to whether we would be able to harvest those crops, but we decided to take that risk.”

It paid off: good weather contributed to a decent harvest from 1,308 hectares of sunflowers. 1434 hectares of wheat, 255 hectares of barley, 165 hectares of winter rapeseed and some crops for animal feed were also sown. They lost 27 hectares of wheat in a fire caused by the bombing, but managed to harvest the rest.

A missile strike killed 38 of the farm’s 1,250 cattle in April, forcing managers to sell off most of the remaining herd, keeping 215 cattle in dairy production. The next day, a rocket hit a machinery storage area, destroying a combine and damaging other machinery, Kurinni said.

Total losses from the war are not easy to calculate, Kurinni said, but he estimated that about 10 million hryvnias (about $270,000) were lost in crop production and about 1 million hryvnias ($26,700) for the 38 head of cattle killed during the strike.

As Ukraine’s counteroffensive has pushed the front line further east, he said they have become more confident about sowing and are beginning to prepare the ground for winter crops.

But for the severely damaged farm where Lubinets works, it is still a long way from returning to the fields.

“Before this war, we lived peacefully, worked, achieved something, strived for something – and now what?” he said. “Everything is damaged, everything is destroyed, and we have to rebuild it all from scratch.”

Follow AP’s coverage of the Russian-Ukrainian war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine and the food crisis https://apnews.com/hub/food-crisis.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, copied or distributed without permission.

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