Chris McCullough For Agri-View
CHERNIHIV, Ukraine – An Ukraine dairy farmer says “Russian orks” who killed 110 of his cows and calves near his farm in Chernihiv are “inhuman.” But he vowed to rebuild his business.
Hryhoriy Tkachenko, 55, is the owner of Naporivske Farm, located in Lukashivka village about 20 kilometers from Chernihiv and 150 kilometers northeast of Kyiv, Ukraine. Russian soldiers shelled Tkachenko’s farm March 8, killing cows as well as damaging sheds and farm machinery. The next day they came and occupied the farm. Tkachenko and his family had only minutes to escape, following a telephone warning from Ukrainian soldiers who had been defending the local village.
It was not until March 30 that Tkachenko could return to his farm and conduct real damage after the Russians had been driven out of the area by Ukrainian forces. To his dismay, 110 dairy cows and calves were killed during the shelling and occupation of his farm. Many of them were shot for fun by the Russians, who then barbecued the meat at a local historic church they later destroyed.
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From small beginnings with only three cows, Tkachenko built Naporivske Farm with his wife, Valentyna, and their four children. It was a small backyard farm, typical of many in Ukraine, but had expanded widely thanks to the family’s hard work.
In 2002 the family started growing crops on 6 hectares of owned land – about 15 US acres – with just $ 300 of capital and no machinery. They carry out most of the work manually, including fertilization and spraying the crops.
The business was registered in 2005; Before the Russians occupied the farm it had grown to more than 1,500 hectares of land – about 3,707 US acres – with a productive dairy herd of 326 cows.
Tkachenko said, “We started our farm with Simmental Cows but we’ve been undergoing so-called ‘Holsteinisation’ with the help of high-quality Canadian Holstein semen.
“Thanks to improvements in genetics, reproduction technology, feeding, milking and housing, and the support of the Association of Milk Producers in Ukraine, our farm has been confidently increasing its productivity levels.
“In 2021 we were acquiring over 6,000 kilograms of milk per cow (about 13,227 pounds) and were planning to reach at least 7,000 kilograms by the end of 2022 (about 14,433 pounds). We were sending about 3 tonnes of milk per day at 30 euro cents per kilogram to our local processor Kulykivske Milk, which is located 20 kilometers from us in Kulykivka town. “
Tkachenko employed 30 full-time staff and additional seasonal workers on the farm to help the cows and the crops, which included potatoes and strawberries. He had invested heavily on the farm. In 2016 he switched from a tie-stall housing system to the cows for free-stall, and designed and installed a new DeLaval milking parlor. This past autumn he has completed a new grain-drying complex, most of which has just been destroyed.
During the initial stages of the war Tkachenko and his team continued milking the cows, until the farm was occupied, although the processing plant could not collect milk due to intense shelling in the area.
Tkachenko said, “We distributed milk to the local villages, and some milk was distributed by the Red Cross to orphanages and hospitals in Chernihiv.
“At 6.30 pm on March 8, the Russians fired over 30 shells at our dairy farm from a rocket launcher. This intended shelling destroyed our farm warehouses, damaged roofs, (and) destroyed the milking block, parlor and the milk-cooling tank. They killed many cows and burnt the machinery.
“At this time our workers were on the farm and they miraculously survived. Since then we could not operate. The next morning at 9 am the (occupiers) entered our village, and then invaded the farm.
“With only minutes to spare I was warned by Ukrainian soldiers who were defending our village, who called me and only managed to say ‘run!’ before the connection was broken.
“We rushed to the car and managed to escape. Otherwise the Russians would definitely have killed us.
“Our village was under occupation for almost a month, until March 30. During that time there were about 500 Russian soldiers in our village and about 2,000 in the neighboring village of Ivanivka.
“I can’t call Russian soldiers humans. They are creatures for me, ‘orks,’ as they terrorize and beat people into the village. They regularly took some men out of hidings, fired shots at their heads and then repeatedly entertained them.
“Around 50 houses in the 150 of the village have been destroyed and 12 of our villagers were killed by the Russians.”
He said the Russians would continue to bomb and mine farms because they know Ukraine is the breadbasket of Europe and they want to destroy the food chain.
“On my farm the Russians killed cows that survived the shelling,” he said. “Some were shot for fun because they were mooing too loudly with the hunger. They even killed some to eat on the barbecue. In total we lost 110 cows and calves.
“The Russians bomb farms and machinery in all the hostilities of the regions. These are civilian, not military objects. There is no doubt they do this on purpose. They know well that Ukraine is an agrarian country, where the share of agriculture (gross domestic product) is up to 15 percent. That is why they are deliberately destroying the bases of our food security and economics. “
Tkachenko and his staff are starting to rebuild the farm; Since April 20 they ‘ve been trying to plant crops in the fields. But his land is full of mines left by the Russians and demining takes a long time.
He said, “We still hope to sow some crops, though our machinery is most recently destroyed. Shrapnel and direct fire damaged our fuel tanks, so we lacked diesel. Luckily almost all our staff survived, and we have to take care of them and give them jobs.
“We couldn’t remove the dead animals from the farm until April 10, when a plot in the outskirts of the village was demined and we received permission from our local administration and veterinary service to bury the corpses there.
“Currently we are repairing the farm buildings, and the DeLaval service team is helping us repair the milking parlor. We have gathered cows that ran away from the farm during shelling and hope to restart milking some cows in three weeks’ time. “
Because there are no formal compensation systems to rebuild farms in Ukraine just yet, Tkachenko is relying on outside help to start the farm again.
He said, “We received a StarLink system from our colleague Kees Huizinga of Kischenzi Farm, a member of the Association of Milk Producers and the Ukrainian Agri Council.
“Thanks to that, we set up an internet connection in the building that substitutes as our farm office, though there is still no cell connection and problems with electricity. Our neighbor farms also helped us fuel with the diesel generator.
“We have a long way to go before we restore, but we believe in the victory of Ukraine, and we are not going to quit our agrarian business or stop the farm.”
The Kyiv, Kharkiv and Chernihiv regions were the top three dairy regions of Ukraine in 2022; Together they supplied 30 percent of total industrial milk to processing.
The Association of Milk Producers together with the Pig Producers of Ukraine and the Ukrainian Agri Council, under the approval and support of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food and the State Service of Ukraine, has launched a special project – “Marshall Plan for Livestock of Ukraine.” Together they are gathering and supplying farms with humanitarian veterinarian medicine and instruments, feed ingredients and milking hygiene aids needed for the next few months.
With 20 years of experience behind him, award-winning agricultural journalist Chris McCullough is always on the hunt for his next story. He grew up on a family dairy farm in the heart of Northern Ireland and is based on the east coast. He travels around the world to bring readers international news. He has many friends and colleagues in Ukraine.