Ukraine’s poorest sow seeds under the bombs
Standing in front of the home of his boss recently hit by a bomb in southern Ukraine, Vassili Kushch never wavers in his commitment to the land, picking up his shovel and getting to work.”I must work. I don’t have anywhere else to go,” labourer Kushch, 63, says in the village of Mala Tokmachka, 70 kilometres (43 miles) southeast of Zaporizhzhia.
The village, only a few kilometres from the invisible line separating Moscow’s troops from Kyiv’s forces, wakes up every night to Russian rockets splitting the sky and discovers the disastrous consequences every morning.
Russian strikes mangled the metal fence belonging to Kushch’s boss. Several windows in his old tractors, parked in the garden, have shattered.
Rubble litters the ground. The small bomb responsible for the damage has gouged a hole in the ground, right in front of the home.
Kushch doesn’t hold his words back for the “Russian bastards” who destroy his village but soon lifts his shovel once more.
On the other side of the road, another bomb destroyed a red-brick building.
“The neighbour was in the kitchen. She left to hide in the fields,” Kushch says, before adding: “Thank God, the cow is still alive.”
Kushch is one of hundreds of residents who decided to stay in the village, though many others fled after two months of war.
The last ones to remain are the poorest and most vulnerable, often the oldest, and those whose only riches come from the earth.
Kushch doesn’t have much. The army jacket he wears was “given by a prison guard”, his loose trousers “date back to the Soviet era” and he lives in a small room, which “shakes” every time Russians strike.
“It’s like I’m naked,” sighs the former driver, who has been doing odd jobs for 30 years. “I don’t have money to buy anything.”
Kushch, a divorced father of five who is not in contact with his children, would like to “bury alive” the “katsap”, a pejorative term used to refer to Russians.
But he knows he doesn’t have any chance against Moscow’s forces with just his shovel and so he remains in Mala Tokmachka.
“If we don’t sow the potatoes, we will have none to harvest. Same for onions. And so the cows will die of hunger,” he says with evident fear, rolling a cigarette with tobacco he has grown himself.
It would be a similar tragedy for a man whose parents, born in 1927, experienced the great famine of 1932-33, and another in 1946-47.