Ivan Volodymyrovich has only had a few nights of quiet sleep as the Russian army has fled, taking with him the artillery and rocket launchers that had brought war thunder to this countryside east of Kyiv for weeks, in an unsuccessful attempt to attack the troops. His way to the capital.
But here, as elsewhere, the sudden peace has only brought new light on the toll of the Russian invasion, which has left behind its tortured bodies and deadly fields. Soon after the departure of the Russian army, a Ukrainian armament team identified 17 munitions in a square kilometer area operated by the company Agro-Region, where Mr. Volodymyrovich works as a farm manager.
Ordnance specialists removed most of the munitions on farm-field land, allowing tractors to get to work quickly. A week ago, the idea of planting crops here seemed ridiculous, with a fierce conflict that has killed thousands and sparked concerns about food shortages. The rapid plowing and fertilization of fields east of Kyiv is a testament to the strength of Ukraine’s relentless resolve, even as the Russian withdrawal has exposed new atrocities – particularly of civilians living in Kyiv’s western suburbs. against, where dead women are found naked and men with hands tied and shot in the head from behind.
On Monday, US President Joe Biden called Russia’s Vladimir Putin “a war criminal”, pledging to collect evidence for a trial as the US continues to arm Ukraine. French President Emmanuel Macron said gruesome photos emerging from around Kyiv, including the city of Bucha, showed “very clear signs of war crimes”. Lithuania said it would expel the Russian ambassador and bring its envoy to Moscow. Germany expelled 40 Russian diplomats, with Foreign Minister Annalena Berbock saying what happened in Buka exposed “the incredible cruelty of the Russian leadership and those who follow its propaganda”.
Canada pledged new sanctions against 10 people said to be close allies of Russian and Belarusian regimes to facilitate and enable violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty. Ottawa did not name the people.
Although Ukraine called for even more punitive international action against Russia, Foreign Minister Dmitro Kuleba said, “Half measures are no longer enough.”
The country has sought to use the horrors on display around Kyiv for prompt action. Officials visited foreign journalists on Monday through Motizin, a village southwest of Bucha, where the mayor was partially buried in a pit next to her husband and son.
Russia has denied any responsibility for the civilian deaths, insisting against evidence to the contrary that the corpses were staged in the streets.
President Volodymyr Zelensky visited Buka on Monday to see himself.
“It is important to show the world what the Russian Federation and the Russian military did here,” he said, calling it “simply unimaginable.”
“Children were killed, women were raped,” he said, pledging to hold Russia “for the acts they committed.”
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s defense minister warned of worse times to come, pointing to the movements of Russian troops and weapons, suggesting preparations for a fresh attempt to conquer Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city. Kyiv Mayor Vitaly Klitschko cautioned against an immediate return to the capital, saying that much of the unexploded ordnance has not yet been approved and that further missile attacks remain a possibility.
How to remove unexploded weapons has become one of the central questions for Ukrainian farmers.
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After the Russian troops had left the positions they had used to fire rockets and shells, Mr. Volodymyrovich managed the land, calling an ordnance disposal team. It used drones and metal-detection devices to identify unexploded weapons, including a 500-kilogram bomb. Once the experts had defused the rockets, Mr Volodymyrovich’s men used farm equipment to push them out with their tails.
“The tractor was on the field minutes later,” said Mr Volodymyrovich, whom The Globe and Mail is recognizing by his patronymic because he fears a Russian withdrawal and revenge. While the tractor was operating, the smoke of war was still curling from the horizon as Ukrainian forces pursued fleeing Russian forces. Five or 10 days later and it would be too late to plant crops like sunflowers.
“We were very fortunate that our armed forces had driven out the enemy, giving us the opportunity to advance along these areas,” said Mr. Volodymyrovich, wearing a military vest and carrying a rifle. Like other farmers here, he belongs to a local Territorial Defense Force militia group.
But three unexploded missiles remain on farm-field fields, deep in the ground, their locations marked with empty water bottles. They were left behind when the diminutive crew was called in for more urgent urban needs in Buka and other satellite cities west of Kyiv.
Ukraine said its State Emergency Service has about 500 experts trained to disable the remaining weapons. But it is impossible to estimate how many weapons are left, it said in a statement on Monday.
And Agro-Region’s success in resuming work highlights the enormity of the effort that Ukraine faces even in places free from fighting. Mr Volodymyrovich said it took the crew six hours to examine 136 hectares. Agriculture alone covers an area of 12,000 hectares. Much of that land was not affected by the fighting, but Mr. Volodymyrovich pointed to a row of trees marking the edge of an area that had until recently been occupied by Russia. It is a large group of land extending to the borders of Russia and Belarus. Landmines can be hidden anywhere, which can frighten farmers.
“There is a risk that the planting season will not start in the occupied area,” said Mr. Volodymirovich.
The naval mines discovered in the Black Sea are probably worse. Their presence has helped ensure that shipping cannot resume at ports important to Ukraine’s agricultural exports, which supply large percentages of the world’s wheat, corn and sunflower oil needs. Millions of tons of the 2021 crop remain in warehouses and granaries, with no way out (attempts to export by train have proved slow and costly).
Even though farmers may plant this year, they have little confidence that they will be able to sell what they harvest.
“We will sow as much as we can, hoping that the world will unite and eventually push Russia to unblock exports,” said Katerina Rybachenko, chief executive officer of Agro-Region. “Otherwise, the world will face many more problems, such as food shortages when inflation hits record highs.”
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