BILOSELKA, Ukraine (Reuters) – Andriy Pobod, 27, has returned to his grain farm in Ukraine’s southern province of Kherson after it recaptured it from Russia last November. What I saw was a pile of ruins. Two tractors were missing, most of the wheat had disappeared, and all the crop storage buildings and farm machinery had been destroyed by bombing.
These scenes exposed the real damage caused by the Russian artillery bombardment, but the year-long war also brought an invisible blow to the fertile soil of Ukraine, known as “Europe’s great breadbasket.” ing.
Scientists examining soil samples taken from Kherson found that the soil was contaminated with toxic substances leached from bullets and fuel, such as mercury and arsenic.
A team of scientists from the Ukrainian Institute of Soil Science and Agricultural Chemistry examined samples and satellite images and estimated that at least 10.5 million hectares of agricultural land across Ukraine had deteriorated soil quality so far. This amounts to a quarter of all agricultural land in Ukraine, including areas still occupied by Russian forces.
“It’s a very big problem for the area where we live. The soil here is so good that we can’t grow it again,” said Pobod as he walked through a farm near Birozerka, Kherson province, about 10 kilometers from the Dnieper. I held
Around 25 soil analysis scientists, farmers, grain industry officials and other experts were interviewed by Reuters and said they were working to repair the damage done to the breadbasket, including removing pollutants and landmines and restoring destroyed infrastructure. has been measured in decades and is expected to threaten to jeopardize food supplies for years to come.
Scientists also say the bombardment disrupts the ecosystem of soil microbes that convert nutrients such as nitrogen into crops, and the tanks compact the soil, making it harder for plants to take root.
Some of the land was mined and transformed with trenches and shell holes to make it look like a World War I battlefield. Experts say they may never again be available for agricultural production.
Before the war, Ukraine was the world’s fourth-largest corn exporter and fifth-largest wheat exporter, and a major supplier to poorer countries, especially in Africa and the Middle East.
Just a year ago, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine led to soaring world grain prices after the closure of peacetime grain shipping routes along the Black Sea coast.
The head of the Institute of Soil Sciences and Agricultural Chemistry, Svitoslav Balek, told Reuters that the damage caused by the war would reduce Ukraine’s annual cereal harvest by 10-20 million tons, or 60-89 million tons of total harvest before the war. He showed a trial calculation that there is a possibility that it may be up to more than 30%.
In addition to soil destruction, Ukrainian farmers are also plagued by the ubiquitous remains of unexploded ordnance, the destruction of irrigation systems and silos, and port facilities.
Andriy Badachursky, CEO of Nibron, one of Ukraine’s largest grain producers, estimates that clearing landmines alone will take 30 years. He complained that he needed help.
“Right now it’s expensive, but we can get food. But in a year’s time there will be food shortages if nothing is done about it,” he said. warns.
According to the Institute of Soil Science and Agricultural Chemistry, the soil that suffered the most was the highly fertile soil known as chernozem (black soil). Chernozems have a higher content of humus, phosphorus and nitrogen than other soils, and extend up to 1.5 meters underground at their deepest points.
The institute’s director, Balek, said that an estimated 26% reduction in the energy needed to germinate corn seeds from the ground has already been reduced due to an increase in toxic substances and a decrease in the density of microorganisms caused by war, resulting in a decrease in yields. I told him I was connected.
A task force of soil scientists set up by the Ukrainian government estimated the cost of clearing all landmines and restoring Ukraine’s soil to a healthy state at $15 billion.
According to Baruque, the recovery period could be as short as three years or as long as over 200 years, depending on the degree of contamination of the land.
Also, if the damage that World War I did to the land is a reference, some areas will never return to normal.
In 2006, two American scholars, Joseph Hoopy and Randall Shetzl, presented the results of a study on the effects of war on soil. He pointed out the phenomenon of erasing the groundwater veins just below the ground, which is essential for the growth of algae.
In the vicinity of Verdun, France, which was the site of a fierce battle in World War I, several areas that were used as grain farms and pastures before the war have become unusable for agriculture even after more than 100 years have passed due to shell holes and unexploded ordnance. Gone, Houpy and another scholar noted in a 2008 paper.
Mr. Hoopy told Reuters he feared that some of Ukraine’s arable land could also become permanently barren for grain production due to soil contamination and topographical changes. Many other agricultural lands will also have to be leveled and cleared of landmines by extensive civil engineering work, he said.
Naomi Lintaul Hines, of the University of Canterbury Christchurch, who studies World War I soil contamination, fears similarly irreparable soil damage is being done in Ukraine.
Lead, for example, takes 700 years or more to halve its underground reserves. Lintaul Hines said the plants growing in these lands contain many toxic substances that can be harmful to the human body.
He added that although World War I lasted four years and Ukraine’s war is only a year old, lead is still one of the main ingredients in many modern weapons.
The Ukrainian government estimates it will likely take decades to clear 26 percent of its territory from landmines and unexploded ordnance, said Michael Thiele, director of Europe-related program management for the U.S. State Department’s Arms Clearance Division. bottom.
Andriy Pastyushenko’s (39) livestock forage farm in southeastern Ukraine is also riddled with shell holes and bunkers built by the Russian army.
And even after Ukraine recaptured the area last November, Russian artillery continued to bombard the area from across the Dnieper, creating new shell holes and unexploded ordnance on the farm every day.
“It will take months, even years, to clean everything up and continue to operate,” said Pastyushenko, lamenting that this is a front line and no one will come to his aid.
A spokesman for the Kherson region’s military authorities confirmed that no demining operations have so far been carried out on farms in the region due to the limited number of specialized personnel.
Nibron executives told Reuters that with little outside help, the company has set up a small team to clear landmines in southern Ukraine, but the effort will be decades in the making. “It’s a very serious problem for Nibron,” he said.
(Reporter Rod Nickel)