On a 1,500 hectare plot of Europe's breadbasket, Ukrainian farmer Grygorii Tkachenko is rebuilding his farm.
Russian forces rained Grad missiles and bullets on his land in early March, wiping out buildings, machinery and half his livestock — leaving only a trail of devastation when they finally retreated from the north-eastern Chernihiv region, where he produces corn, potatoes and cows’ milk.
“They fired at us a lot, and we had a lot of unexploded missiles,” the 54-year-old said of the Russians’ three-day attack on his village, Lukashivka. The assault killed Valentina, a woman in her early 60s whom he employed on the farm.
The Russians mined all of his fields, and went on a “hunting expedition” against the cows that hadn't already been killed by missiles or shrapnel, said the father of three. “It was horrible, just horrible,” he said over the phone, raging against the “savages,” who also looted women’s underwear from his family’s property.
Tkachenko’s harrowing experience is playing out across Ukraine, a country that in normal times fed 10 times its own population, sending ships laden with wheat, sunflower oil and corn to North Africa and the Middle East. Countries such as Egypt, Lebanon and Mauritania have come to rely on Ukraine’s vast exports that have slowed to a trickle as Russia blockades its Black Sea ports.
Now, as Ukraine’s farmers press ahead with a delayed spring sowing campaign, the scale of the damage Russia has inflicted on its food production capacity is wreaking havoc on world markets. Food prices have shot up, provoking an unprecedented affordability crisis that will worsen the already record level of world hunger, according to a recent joint U.N. and EU report.