#Grain #sold #Russia #occupied #Ukraine
In an eastern Ukrainian village under Russian control, farm manager Viktor Molotok is surrounded by tons of grain piling up in hills around him.
“We won’t go hungry, that’s for sure,” he said, laughing. “But Europe… I’m not so sure about that.”
AFP met Molotok during a tightly controlled press tour organized by the Russian army.
He runs a 5,500-hectare farm in the village of Kalmykivka in eastern Ukraine’s Lugansk region, over which Moscow claimed full control in early July.
Molotok in the plaid shirt avoids all political talk and says business is good despite the Russian offensive.
What has changed are his customers.
Today he sells his grain and sunflower seeds to Russian customers.
“Our company works like it used to,” he said, adding that “not a single” worker left.
Molotok said he had to look for “new logistics” and was in contact with Russian companies.
“Whoever makes the best price, that’s where we sell.”
Often referred to as the “breadbasket of Europe”, Ukraine is one of the top grain producers in the world.
Moscow’s offensive has massively hampered grain exports and triggered fears of hunger far beyond the war-torn countries.
Thousands of tons of grain have been stuck in blocked Ukrainian ports since President Vladimir Putin launched the attack in late February.
On Friday, Moscow and Kyiv signed an agreement to open maritime export routes – the first major agreement between the warring parties.
Kyiv accuses Moscow of stealing its crops in the occupied territories for its own consumption or reselling them abroad, and even bombing its fields to damage crops.
Moscow has denied the allegations.
– ‘Maybe Africa or Asia’ –
Farmer Molotok says he doesn’t know what will happen to his grain once it reaches Russia.
He does not rule out that it could be resold.
“We sell to Russia through dealers. I can’t say for sure where this production is going,” he said.
“Maybe they’ll take it to Africa or Asia, I don’t know.”
Since the beginning of the year, he has sold 800 tons of sunflower seeds to Russia through companies in areas controlled by pro-Russian separatists.
Although workers say there was no fighting when Kalmykivka fell to Russian troops and AFP saw no signs of destruction, heavy fighting was taking place just dozens of kilometers away.
Molotok said peasants “heard echoes of artillery” during weeks of fighting for Lysychansk, a town that fell to Moscow forces in early July.
Alexander, a 21-year-old seasonal farm worker who preferred not to give his last name, said there was “panic” in the village at the start of Moscow’s intervention.
But now, he said, while sweeping grain off the ground, people have “got used to” the presence of the Russian army.
Alexander, who speaks a mix of Russian and Ukrainian typical of the region, said he had been promised a salary in rubles but did not know how much he would receive.
Though spared from armed clashes, the farm’s crops suffered from the low rainfall, with production down about 15 percent from a year earlier, Molotok estimates.
– Past of the Russian Empire –
Six hundred kilometers away, in the partially Moscow-controlled southeastern Zaporizhzhia region, wheat fields stretch as far as the eye can see.
A combine harvester devours heavy corn with a loud sound of clinking metal.
Trucks unload their cargo at industrial yards in the town of Melitopol, which fell to Russian troops in the first week of Moscow’s offensive.
Wheat is processed into flour at a plant in the city.
Employees with masks and headbands fill the bags with the white powder and then set them up for transport.
Melitopol is lined with Russian flags and banners reading “220 Years of Taurida Governorate,” a reminder that the area was once part of the Russian Empire.
Andrey Siguta, the pro-Russian head of the Melitopol district administration, said he was satisfied with the operation of the flour factory.
On his blazer he wore a badge with the letter Z, the symbol of the Russian army fighting in Ukraine.
He said local grain elevators had signed a contract with the authorities.
“We have organized a state grain company that buys from all the grain stores in the region,” he said.
He added that his priority now is “the region’s food security”.
“After that, it’s determined who we’re going to sell to and in what quantities,” he said.
#Grain #sold #Russia #occupied #Ukraine