A 56-year-old Ukrainian farmer named Yuriy has found himself waist-deep in water, his gaze filled with bewilderment as he surveyed his village of Afanasiyivka. Just a week ago, he had been tending to his thriving crops and grazing his content cows. However, his once fertile land in the Mykolaiv region now lay submerged beneath murky green waters.
The cause of this devastation was none other than the destruction of the Kakhovka hydroelectric dam, resulting in massive flooding across the Kherson and Mykolaiv regions. This calamity struck a severe blow to the already struggling farmers who had been grappling with the challenges of heavy shelling and the arduous task of demining their lands.
As Yuriy watched helpless ducklings drift by in the flooded waters, he placed the blame squarely on Russian President Vladimir Putin, lamenting, “Putin took everything away from us.” The Ministry of Agricultural Policy in Ukraine estimated that several million tonnes of crops could be lost due to the flooding. While 10,000 hectares of agricultural land were flooded on the right bank of the Dnipro River in Kherson, the submerged area on the Russian-controlled left bank was several times larger.
Afanasiyivka, the small village, remained partially submerged due to the flooding from the local Ingulets River. The villagers reported that the disaster had caused extensive damage to potato crops, grazing fields, and claimed the lives of smaller animals. The floodwaters had cut off the village, and soldiers were providing transportation across the water. The absence of electricity, phone connections, and drinking water further compounded the hardship faced by the villagers.
Olena Gulyuk, a 59-year-old farmer, ventured to the crossing point in search of bottled water provided by volunteers. Covered in mud from her efforts to salvage her belongings, she recounted the losses, saying, “Our hay got soaked. We had grain for animal feed, but it’s spoiled too. Our hutches floated away with the animals inside. Our rabbits died, and that’s truly painful.” Having spent her entire life farming, she added, “We planted potatoes, beetroot, carrots, everything needed for the household. But now, there’s nothing.”
Evidence of the occupation by Russian forces for seven months was visible in Afanasiyivka, with shelling damage apparent on the roofs of houses now submerged in water. The fields still bore red signs warning of the presence of mines.
According to the agriculture ministry, approximately 470,000 hectares of agricultural land in Ukraine remained contaminated with unexploded ordnance and mines. Despite the challenges, Olena remained resolute, stating, “The Russians just want to destroy Ukraine. But we’re Ukrainians, and we’ll survive. They beat us, set our homes on fire, and rockets flew over our heads, but we survived. Now we won’t allow ourselves to be drowned.”
However, not all farmers shared Olena’s optimism. Vasyl Palamarchuk, a 71-year-old farmer from the village of Chornobaivka near Kherson, expressed a more somber outlook. As he gathered wet, unripe corncobs that had become useless as food or animal feed, he remarked, “The flooding ruined our land for crops. Nothing will grow for a decade; it’s an ecological disaster.”