A centuries-old spring tradition has been preserved in Ukraine, through the communist occupation of the last century and the current war.
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Every year, a week after Easter, we go to cemeteries. Tens of millions of people dress in nice clothes and take food with them. Coloured eggs — krashanky — and special tall breads — pasky — must be placed in the basket with food.
It is believed that at this time, the souls of deceased relatives stand at the cemetery entrance and wait to see their descendants and eat the food we brought.
This tradition is so important that even atheists come to Provody, as the day is known. People travel hundreds of kilometres to attend and significant traffic jams form on the roads.
I suspect the massive holiday can also be explained by the fact that Provody is the only day of the year when you can meet not only the dead, but also all living relatives, even those you have not seen for years.
The central place in our cemeteries is reserved for graves with national flags, which mark defenders of Ukraine who gave their lives for our freedom. It is difficult to approach their graves and see the names of young people I know, some of whom I talked to six months ago.
We pay our respects to the dead and go home. On this day, you need to rest and have clear thoughts.
On the way home, I barely managed to squeeze the car past a huge 500-horsepower tractor with a disc harrow coming toward me. The next tractor flies behind him, and then another. No wonder. The sowing campaign has finally started in Ukraine.
Weather conditions surprise no one, since the climate in Ukraine changes rapidly. Usually the biggest problem in spring is lack of rain, but this year everything is the opposite. We were flooded with rain for almost a month and a half, and the weather sometimes resembled late autumn. It was quite cold and even now, in May, we have to turn on the heating in our houses at night.
Our farmers waited a long time for the rain to end so they could start working in the fields. Most of them also have to cultivate before sowing, losing precious time. The optimal time for planting is past, so it is difficult to say what harvest will be like in the fall. Dry weather has set in and moisture quickly evaporates from the soil.
This spring, I once again promised myself never to grow potatoes again. One kilogram of potatoes costs only 11 Canadian cents at the store. I can buy several bags of ready-made potatoes and not suffer in the field. Yet I am not able to break the tradition. All my relatives are convinced that a person can only meet winter calmly when he has a mountain of potatoes, grown by his own hands, in his cellar.
So, I take a hand plow and plow long furrows in which women and children put tubers. After a few hours, I’m shaking from fatigue, but I’m happy. We planted all the potatoes. I have two weeks off, and then the potatoes will begin to grow actively and I will start exercising in the field again. Without it, life would be empty. Agriculture is in our blood.
Elsewhere, our farmers have barely been able to raise enough money to buy fuel, seeds and pesticides, and are now forced to sow much later because of the rains.
A week ago, I went to a large agricultural company in the western part of Ukraine. I spoke with agronomist Fedir, who manages work on 250,000 acres. He was in a bad mood because the sale of grain at measly prices did not cover the cost of growing the crop. Also, many of the company’s employees joined the army and today he has to look for their replacements, either young guys or pensioners.
“(Required)” indicates required fields
According to Fedir, sugar is the only product that can save the company’s financial situation. Sugar is willingly bought both in Ukraine and abroad, as it is stored for a long time and is needed in many branches of the food industry. Therefore, in this season, more than a quarter of the land will be sown with sugar beets.
I arrived home after buying a bus ticket to the picturesque Ukrainian city of Uman, known all over the world for its beautiful landscape park that is almost 250 years old. When I woke up in the morning, I read in the news that during the night, the Russians killed 23 people in that city, among them five children.
The missile, which they fired from a distance of several thousand kilometres away near the Caspian Sea, flew into the small, peaceful town in the centre of Ukraine and hit a residential building.
This is all you need to know about the cost of this war and those we fight.
Another farmer, Serhii, who cultivates 4,000 acres in central Ukraine, says he has planted more winter rapeseed. The area under soybeans, which Ukrainian farmers use to replace part of the areas under corn, has also increased significantly.
Corn grain is cheap and large additional funds are needed to dry it and transport it to the elevator. Instead, rapeseed and soybean seeds can be profitably sold abroad or sent for processing.
Adding to these challenges, the export of grain sometimes stops and then resumes, and no farmer knows whether he will be able to get any money.
But Serhii says he feels good because he uses no-till technology. He showed me that moist soil lies under a thick layer of crop residue in his fields. The seeds are guaranteed to germinate and the plants will be strong, he says. He uses less fuel and mineral fertilizer than his neighbours, which reduces the cost of production.
To understand how much our psyche has been rebuilt to the conditions of war, I spoke with Serhii near the fuel depot, which was attacked by Russian drones at night. I spent the night in a nearby hotel and I thought I heard explosions.
In the morning, I went back to Serhii’s office and found it was next to the explosion site. We looked at the burned tanks and talked about agriculture — and also about sports. It is difficult to explain, but to defeat the enemy and be psychologically stable, one must not be afraid. We know the enemy will not break us.
I admire my compatriots. Despite everything, they stubbornly do their job. Villagers are planting fields as their ancestors did, utilities are repairing roads, picking up trash and mowing weeds near roads and sidewalks. People work in factories, hospitals and schools.
Their thoughts are with hundreds of thousands of compatriots in military uniform who, despite everything, are steadfastly repelling the enemy.
These are not just words. Every Ukrainian has relatives or friends fighting at the front. Most of them are people who have never held a gun before, but they learned to be soldiers to protect their homeland.
We all hope our army will soon go on the offensive and liberate the entire territory of Ukraine. We believe in the best, but we are already thinking about next winter.
Last winter was difficult due to constant power outages and massive rocket attacks. Although the sun is warm outside now, and the gardens are covered with lush flowers, we are well aware that summer will pass.
Today it is already necessary to prepare for winter and for a long war. That is why Ukrainian farmers will go to the fields, no matter what.
In turn, I will plant potatoes again. Even though it is easier to buy.