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Ukrainian farmers rush to harvest grain from fields near frontline

a ukrainian serviceman inspects a burned grain storage at a compound of a farm near a frontline in zaporizhzhia region
A Ukrainian serviceman inspects a burned grain storage at a compound of a farm near a frontline, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine July 17, 2022. REUTERS/Dmytro Smolienko

A plume of smoke rises from a burning field in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region, an increasingly common sight across swathes of farmland in the south and east of the country that borders a frontline stretching more than 1,000 km (620 miles).

In nearby fields, farmers are racing to harvest crops before they too are devoured in fires sparked by Russian shelling from the fighting in neighbouring Donetsk.

“This is our harvest, burned by Orcs (Russians), we have not managed to harvest it,” said Dmytro, a Ukrainian soldier holding out a fistful of burnt wheat stalks he picked from blackened field. “This is territory that has nearly been captured by the Russians. They are 3 kilometres away from here.”

A short ride away, a thick layer of ash covers the ground of what used to be a huge grain silo destroyed by a missile last month. Its contents — last year’s crop — were burned in the fire that followed the hit.

Since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, the world’s fourth largest grains exporter, Kyiv has repeatedly accused Russia of attacking infrastructure and agriculture to provoke a global food crisis and pressure the West.

Moscow, which calls the conflict a “special military operation”, blames Western sanctions and sea mines laid by Ukraine for the drop in food exports and rising global prices.

In the Dnipropetrovsk region, a little to the north, Andriy, a farmer whose fields have been under near-constant shelling for more than a month, braves the shellfire to save his crops from going up in smoke.

“We got used to it, weird is when they do not shoot,” said Andriy, driving his combine harvester in the field of wheat. “When they shoot, it is normal, we are used to it.”

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