A dairy farmer in Ukraine is praying the country’s armed forces can liberate the Kherson region so he can return to his farm without fear of being arrested, or worse.
When Russian president Putin announced he was annexing 4 regions of Ukraine (Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson;), Russian forces quickly moved onto the dairy farm managed by Andrii Pastushenko to take over.
Pastushenko, 39, who is also a director of the farm, has been working in western Ukraine and knows he cannot return to the farm until the Russians are driven out. They took his deputy manager and held her in captivity for 15 days threatening her to co-operate or lose her life.
“The Russians came to the farm and forced my deputy to sign everything over to them,” said Pastushenko. “They held her captive for 15 days all the time questioning her about the company, about the farm owners and me. They threatened her with her life. It was either co-operate or be killed!” he said.
Pastushenko’s farm is only 20km south of the city of Kherson and already had Russian soldiers staying there in the past. During that time they stole the milk from his cows and slaughtered animals to eat on the barbecue.
However, this time Pastushenko said the Russians are not staying on the farm and have been somewhat polite.
“This time the Russians are not staying in the yard,” said Andrii. “They are too afraid as we have many employees and there is a high probability that one of us would forward the positions on to our army and they will be attacked.”
“…they are forcing her to take the Russian passport and she is not allowed to leave the area.”
Pastushenko is a former university lecturer that taught the German language and started working at the farm company, Dnipro Ltd, as an interpreter before becoming a director.
He said: “Back in 2008, a few German investors bought the farm out of bankruptcy and I acted as their interpreter. A few months later I became a director of the farm myself.”
The farm extends to 1,500 ha of arable land, including 500 hectares of irrigated land. The farm runs 350 Holstein Friesian cows and 400 offspring.
“The Russians want our company to be re-registered and continue to operate. About 95% of the employees stayed on the farm and continue to work. All the animals are there,” Pastushenko added. “The deputy came out of captivity last night. She is thankfully unhurt, but they are forcing her to take the Russian passport and she is not allowed to leave the area.”
“It is difficult to communicate with the farm staff as they only carry the basic cell phones. It’s too dangerous to use a smartphone there right now. I’m currently sitting in western Ukraine and I’m not allowed to go back to the farm as I will be arrested there in a moment,” Pastushenko said.
According to Pastushenko, the farm’s owner is not surprised at the Russian behaviour as it was the same in Crimea 8 years ago when they annexed that region and took over farms.
“Even with this setback work must continue,” said Andrii. “We have over 300 hectares of wheat already drilled, but the corn grain is still too wet to thresh. The cows are still being milked every day and the milk is sold.”
“Russian civilians don’t understand what’s going on here…”
Pastushenko added: “Russian civilians don’t understand what’s going on here. Everything they see on TV is lies. Their propaganda tells them everyone is bad, that there are enemies everywhere and only the Russians are good. Negative information about Ukraine has been spread in Russia since 2004 when I was still watching Russian channels. The hatred arose and it took 10 years to prepare when Russia attacked us.”
Pastushenko expresses, “We are not nationalists or fascists. Here in the south, the majority of the people used to speak Russian, but less and less do so since 2014. Now they try to speak Ukrainian as a matter of principle. I firmly believe that Ukrainian forces will liberate Kherson soon. What remains there after the liberation is difficult to estimate,” he said.