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Reportage 14:54 23 Sep 2022

Evacuating flock of sheep across Ukraine and finding new home: incredible story of Donetsk farmer

Rubryka reports on the relocation of the farm and sapper sheep, Ukrainian pastures, and farmers' problems in a new home.

What is the problem?

Evacuation under fire

Volodymyr Alookhin is a Ukrainian farmer from the Donetsk region. In the village of Pavlivka, he bred sheep for many years. When russia's full-scale invasion and hostilities began in his village, russian troops destroyed his house. Only 400 sheep of the herd, which had numbered more than half a thousand, survived.

Володимир Альохін — український фермер з Донеччини

No matter how Volodymyr tried to save the animals, driving them away from the pasture, a hundred of them died from one explosion with the first mortar shelling. Thus, the shepherd's first task was to evacuate from the shelling. Volodymyr did it on foot with the flock, having to walk almost 50 kilometers.

Ukraine is the largest country in Europe, but finding new pastures is almost impossible

At first, the farmer was looking for a place for the flock on his own. He traveled several regions—more than five thousand kilometers in total:

"I was looking for a farm in the Dnipropetrovsk region, but I came across something that might be wrong to say… The new land reform led to many officials 'grabbing' a lot of lands. They didn't understand the issue, converted it into arable land, and resold it," the farmer says.

Володимир Альохін — український фермер з Донеччини

Indeed, the problem of cultivated agricultural land is urgent for Ukraine even now, when military operations are ongoing, and these things may seem like "bad timing." Previously, Rubryka talked about the incorrect use of agricultural land and how it depletes our fertile soils and pollutes water resources, leading to the ground not being able to deposit the amount of carbon dioxide it should. After all, it even affects climate change.

Володимир Альохін — український фермер з Донеччини

However, not everything is so imperfect. Volodymyr came across wonderful communities and farms on his way, but the prices were also relatively high: the pasture lease sometimes reached more than 5 thousand dollars, but the farmer didn't have so much money.

Володимир Альохін — український фермер з Донеччини

Such prices, again, are formed due to the shortage of pastures and also because Ukrainian lands are the best for cattle breeding:

"During my life, I have traveled half of the world: I lived in the Caucasus and the Middle East, but there are no better territories than Ukraine. Climatically and geographically, there are no better territories! We haven't lost these lands, so we must return the Crimea and Donbas! After that, we have to deal with internal enemies who are turning pastures into arable land," the farmer believes.

Володимир Альохін — український фермер з Донеччини

Володимир Альохін — український фермер з Донеччини

What is the solution?

Ukraine united

Help was found in a remote corner of Ukraine, as far as the Volyn region in the west of Ukraine. Volodymyr Aliokhin met farmer Vasyl Melnyk from Boratyn back in 2014. A common cause united them. When the shepherd from Donetsk called his colleague from Volyn, Vasyl immediately assured him that he would find a place for the animals and Volodymyr.

Володимир Альохін — український фермер з Донеччини

The shepherd brought his flock to Volyn in a truck for animals. He settled in the village of Novostav, near Lutsk, in Vasyl's house. By the way, the animals smoothly went through the move:

"Rams are creatures without adrenaline; it is simply not released. They accept death easiest of all animals because they have no sense of fear. By the way, that's why the rams were always sacrificed… The only thing is that the rams got a little tired when I moved them for 50 kilometers; there were many wounded animals," Volodymyr recalls.

Володимир Альохін — український фермер з Донеччини

At the new place, Volodymyr had to mix up the flocks of sheep—now, there are about 700 animals in the herd. The farmers don't know to whom the animals belong, so they've decided to divide the offspring equally. Liusia and Roshen, two shepherd dogs of the Border Collie breed, which the shepherd also brought from the Donetsk region, help to graze the herd.

Володимир Альохін — український фермер з Донеччини

What difficulties do farmers face in a new place?

The farm has already prepared for winter: hay has been cut, and grain has been harvested. Farmers do all the work together, sharing responsibilities equally.

Володимир Альохін — український фермер з Донеччини

They have recently done deworming, a veterinary procedure to recuperate animals from helminths, i.e., worms. By the way, it's not the only problem the animals had after moving: due to the humid climate, other pests and diseases are more common in this area than in the Donetsk region, but thanks to medicine, the farmers can quickly correct such inconveniences.

Володимир Альохін — український фермер з Донеччини

Returning to native land and sheep-sappers

Farmer Volodymyr says he will probably return to Pavlivka after a short pause. When the conversation turns to his native land, the shepherd becomes sentimental, and it is difficult for him to control his feelings. Of course, he wants to go home and will do so when the threat is over.

"There are people there… Who appreciated me and who prayed for me. And I help them with pleasure because there was neither a doctor, priest, nor a policeman in the village, and everyone came to me."

Pavlivka was deoccupied on June 21, but the russians are still regularly shelling the settlement: the last time was on September 14. But even on the bombed and mined pasture, the farmer is going to continue his work:

"Why can't I graze them there? I grazed even when the field was being shelled! I knew where the anti-tank mines were and where the tripwires were. I quickly find my way."

The farmer also noted that sheep are the best minesweepers, and if mines are planted somewhere in the pasture, the animals will quickly "find" them.

Володимир Альохін — український фермер з Донеччини

"It is better to blow up a sheep than a man. I am ready to sacrifice an animal so that a person doesn't die," says Volodymyr.

Володимир Альохін — український фермер з Донеччини

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