By Joseph Campbell
ZAPORIZHZHIAREGION, Ukraine -Ukrainian farmers in the southern region of Zaporizhzhia which borders the frontline of the military conflict with Russia are now wearing body armour to plough their fields.
A week after the war started, grad rockets began falling right next door to the fields where contract farmer Yuri worked.
He now drives a tractor in a bulletproof vest and a ballistic helmet provided by his employer – kit he says he is used to from time spent doing military service. Farmers in the surrounding fields are following suit.
Although shelling in the area has increased in recent weeks, Yuri, 41, and his colleague Oleksii are determined to plough the fields this spring.
“We go out, pass the checkpoints, get to work, drink tea and coffee, put on our vests and go. We fill up (the gas tank) and then go to fields. If there is shelling, we pack up and go to the office,” said Yuri, who gave only his first name.
Oleksii, 43, described the Russian rocket attacks as “scary” but manageable, since they often occur at night. After an attack people check the fields, and if necessary call in experts to help remove rockets and debris.
Ukraine is the world’s fifth-biggest exporter of wheat and in the top three for maize, barley and sunflower seeds. The lack of Ukrainian grain on world markets due to the war has been pushing up food prices around the world.
Last week Ukraine’s agriculture ministry said farmers have sown 2.5 million hectares of spring crops so far this year, 20% of the expected area, adding the spring sowing area could fall 20% due to the Russian invasion.
Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists. Ukraine and the West says this a false pretext for an unprovoked war of aggression by President Vladimir Putin.