The past eight weeks, our nation and the world have watched Russia’s unjust war in Ukraine unfold and progress. I believe for many of us, it is truly hard to fathom what it’s like on the ground. On Feb. 24, as the first missiles launched, I was amazed and disgusted that Russia would actually invade. Before that time, I believe many of us hoped Vladimir Putin was only sabre rattling.
Then, as the first few days of the war progressed, I was uplifted by the people of Ukraine as they rallied to the defense of their country. Their spirit and courage have been displayed in news footage as countrymen and women of all ages do whatever they can to repel the invaders. And another group of people—Ukrainian farmers—have labored under great hardship as they work night and day in an attempt to feed the Eastern Slavic people.
Those farmers are under the duress of not only war, but skyrocketing input costs and severely limited markets. They worry Russia may target farms and infrastructure, which is vital to their agricultural production. On April 3, the Ukrainian Interior Minister’s office issued a statement that Russia is indeed targeting food and fuel storage facilities.
ABC News has reported that Ukrainian producers, with the help of volunteers, have begun to process crops and animals on their farms and then transport food to residents sheltered in cities. Amidst the chaos surrounding them, farmers are rising to the challenge. I read a heartwarming story of how dairy farmer Andrii Pastushenko, who runs a 350-cow dairy operation, has modified his dairy and added a small processing plant. With the help of his employees, they are able to make butter and sour cream, and are packaging milk into quart containers before delivering it to those in need.
President Volodymyr Zelensky has requested those farmers who took up arms against Russia in the early days of the war now return to their operations so spring planting can begin. Zelensky has provided producers three months to focus on farming to ensure Ukraine has continued future food supplies. He has prioritized farmers, of course, because if people are hungry, they will not have the physical strength to continue the fight.
Over the course of history, farmers have risen to the occasion to feed their fellow citizens. During both World Wars I and II, United States farmers helped feed Europe. It was especially important we provided food during World War II, as European farm fields became battle grounds. At that time, many Ukrainians starved, but today’s leaders are enabling their independent family farmers to do what they do best, feed their war-torn country.
I think the Ukrainian agricultural situation is best summed up by potato farmer Nick Gordiichuk, who farms 90 miles north of Kiev. In the March 28 edition of Hoosier Ag Today he said, “I think, just like in America, it’s in our blood, when the sun is shining and the soil is the right temperature, we go [out to the fields] and try to do something.” Gordiichuk is expressing the indomitable spirit of independent family farmers around the world, as we labor to provide food for everyone’s tables.
—Bruce Shultz, Raynesford, Montana, is vice president of the National Farmers Organization.