Russian forces are stealing farm equipment and thousands of tons of grain from Ukrainian farmers in areas they have occupied, as well as targeting food storage sites with artillery, multiple sources have told CNN.
The phenomenon has accelerated in recent weeks as Russian units have tightened their grip on parts of the rich agricultural regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in southern Ukraine, the sources said. Sowing operations in many areas have since been disrupted or abandoned.
The actions of the Russian forces may threaten the harvest this year in one of the world’s most important grain-producing countries. The volumes involved are said to be huge.
Oleg Nivievskyi, an agrarian specialist at the Kyiv School of Economics, told CNN that on the eve of the invasion, six million tons of wheat and 15 million tons of corn were ready for export from Ukraine, much of it held in the south of the country.
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said Thursday an estimated 400,000 tons of grain had been stolen to date.
Farmers and others in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia have provided CNN with details of multiple thefts.
In late April, Russian soldiers removed 1,500 tons of grain from storage units known as elevators in the Kherson village of Mala Lepetykha, using trucks with Crimean number plates. The next day, those same trucks — 35 in all — returned and emptied large storage units known as grain silos at nearby Novorajsk across the river Dnieper.
In Melitopol, an occupied city in Zaporizhzhia region, Mayor Ivan Fedorov shared a video with CNN that showed trucks — several bearing the “Z” sign of the Russian military — carrying grain towards Crimea. The main elevator in the city had been emptied.
Fedorov told CNN that the Russians “went around all the villages, every yard and looked for agricultural machinery, for grain, which they subsequently looted.”
“Chechen soldiers, fighting for Russia, act like criminals in the 1990s. First they offer to buy grain for a ridiculously low price. But if you don’t agree, they take everything from you for nothing.
“The scale of looting is simply overwhelming,” he said.