A Ukrainian businessman in the agriculture sector is working to help farmers impacted by Russia’s war in Ukraine, while dealing with the impacts of the war on his own family.
As we celebrate our freedoms and those who protected and even sacrificed their life for freedom in the United States this Memorial Day Weekend, we do so in the backdrop of another country fighting for their own freedom.
Roman Grynyshyn started the non-profit World to Rebuild Rural Ukraine after fleeing the country and leading a travel company that brought tourists to Ukraine to see agriculture, while also taking Ukrainian farmers to other parts of the world.
Grynyshyn took his family from Kyev on February 23 out of the city to be with family in rural Ukraine and returned, planning to lead a trip of Ukrainian farmers the next day to Costa Rica.
“The story of the war for me started actually one day before the war, I decided to listen to the intelligence and to the information coming from the west. So, knowing that I need to fly with farmers to Costa Rica for the networking tour on the 24th of February, I took my family with actually all the documents, with all the important things, including two of our cars. We went to the northwest, to my parents, which is about 300 miles. I settled them there and returned to Kyev prepared to fly with the farmers in the morning of 24th, I woke up I took a shower but then my wife is sending me a text message, turn on the TV, missiles are hitting our airports.”
Being the father of three children, he was allowed to flee the country instead of staying back to fight in the war. His family fled Ukraine and eventually found their way to the United States, including staying with a Midwest farmer.
While his family is safe from the war, many farmers are not and the outlook for Ukrainian agriculture is unknown. That’s why Grynyshyn started the non-profit to help farmers in Ukraine rebuild from the war.
He says Ukrainian agriculture is diverse.
“We can distinguish between three types of farmers in Ukraine. The first ones are the biggest ones, those are the LLC corporations that farm within a number of regions, and they can farm from maybe 20,000 hectares to half a million hectares. The mid-size farmer, they make up 45 percent approximately of all the lands, arable lands. And the third are the most in number but they’re the smallest, there is a huge number of small family farms, people from the village who live from the land from what they grow.”
Grynyshyn says Russian soldiers are targeting Ukrainian agriculture in the war.
“By the way, interesting fact that proves that Russian’s are targeting agricultural industry and it makes agricultural fields the second battlefield. This is the notion that I’m bringing to everyone. When they first came to Kherson oblast, this oblast used to be the most powerful in irrigation in Soviet Union. And since then, Ukrainian farmers have been keeping these canals in working state. So, they destroyed that only one university within the post-Soviet countries that had this huge database on irrigation and how it is to be managed. Soldiers have come to farmers and said you need to give up all the data about your facility, your farming locations of their storages, and we will kind of help you sell. However, the next day you, provide this information, or a couple of days later, commodities in the storage simply disappear.”
And Russian troops can utilize a truck that launches mines up to 10 miles away. He says they are doing so to farm fields, rather than the battlefield.
“So, this again proves that agricultural industry is the second battlefield. As a result, what we have right now, a lot of fields are mined distantly, so you wouldn’t see that there were trucks coming into the field. It looks like it was okay, but from the air they managed to mine it. And if, for example, a month ago, it would still be possible to identify those mines with drones. Right now, when the canopies of the winter crops and of the weed is growing and covering the land, you can’t say. It is another issue that might result in a decrease of the commodities harvest for the farmers to decide whether to harvest in this field or not, like a Russian Roulette to do or not to do.”
There’s little doubt that war and occupation from foreign soldiers can be brutal for those living in a country during war. Grynyshyn says that holds true for villagers in Ukraine.
“In the villages, Russians came and they started knocking on the doors, asking do you have vodka and food? If there was one person who said no and close the door, they simply use a tank to destroy his house. Those who gave up vodka, in some cases, they would be fine, they wouldn’t touch it. In other cases, for example, if they had these lists of patriots, and this is a fact it, came from the intelligence before the war that Russians have lists of active patriot people in each of the towns. And when they would be occupying those towns, they would be targeting these people first. This is what happened in Bucha. They tortured the families of those people who are on the list. The same in other villages.”
The atrocities unfortunately don’t stop there, as livestock farmers watch their herds be depleted by soldiers, and the soldiers sabotage rural homes.
“Also, I’ve heard cases, for example, the farmer had 80, eight-zero sheep, within three weeks, he was left with 12. They ate some and they took the others. They slaughtered pigs. They took the best meat, the rest they would pour with diesel so that nobody would eat it. Some people were hiding in the neighbor’s cells. So, in those houses that were free, they would take all the produce from the basement, like potato or sacks with wheat or small grains outside and put mines underneath, so that when people would return they would restart to stack these commodities and explode.”
So, Grynyshyn is doing what it can, from the United States for now, through World to Rebuild Rural Ukraine. WRRU is described as a charity fundraising project aimed to help Ukrainian village citizens rebuild their homes and restore their small ag production capacities after damage by Russian military forces.
“We are not giving up the money, we are instead rebuilding their premises and repurchasing their equipment. So, number one is to fix or rebuild from scratch their house so that they have a roof over their head. Second is to fix or rebuild their production premises, greenhouses, barns, garages, whatever they had that they used for farming. Third, their farm equipment, the tractors, very often Russians destroyed their tractors, small cultivators, sprayers, whatever was lost, we’ll try to replace with equal. And the third farm animals, because a lot of them were simply and slaughtered, or looted.”
You can learn more about Grynyshyn’s efforts, and even donate, at WRRU.org. For now, Grynyshyn plans to stay in the United States, until the end of July, at least, drumming up support for the organization.