«We found ourselves to be among the only suppliers of food in the village near the frontline»

Cherkaska Lozova is a village in the Kharkiv suburban. For six years, Valentyn Spasibo, his wife and their five children were pursuing their dream by building a small family farm here. 

But when the Russian invasion started, a place so close to Kharkiv was in constant danger. The family was forced to leave their farm and sell their cattle. For now, they live in Switzerland but still have hopes and plans to return to Ukraine after the victory.

Valentyn Spasibo on his farm before the invasion. Family photo archive.

Lawyers who became farmers

My wife and I started to plan our future together when we were still students at the law academy. After our children were born, my wife was not returning to the office and we started wondering what to do next. We found the answer after moving to Cherkaska Lozova. Sometime during the walk, we noticed a wonderful landscape – and got the idea to build a farm there.

We built a classic European-style family farm with our own pasture and a cheese factory, equipped with the latest technologies. We had twenty-five Jersey cows and about fifty alpine goats. Including a breeding goat with an active American Dairy Goat Association certificate, probably the only one in Ukraine.

Paid workers handled the livestock; my wife engaged in the production of cheeses and yogurts. And I was responsible for organizing milk delivery to the cheese factory and products to the city for sale. At the same time, I continued my law practice and put money into developing the farm further.

The homes of civilians were destroyed by Russian shellings

The village of Cherkaska Lozova was not occupied by Russian forces. But they settled nearby, in Ruska Lozova, and continuously shelled Kharkiv and other towns from there. Our location close to the city was a benefit once, but in wartime, it turned into a factor of danger. Shells and bullets were flying above our heads.

Many houses in Cherkaska Lozova, including our own, were damaged. Some got no windows or a hole in the roof, and some are burned down or further destroyed. Several projectiles hit our farm, but fortunately, they did not cause any casualties or significant damage.

At the same time, the neighboring farm in Kutuzivka was destroyed. Several hundred cows were shot by the Russian occupants either for fun or out of rage. They also blew up the utility premises while retreating.

The farm provided people with food, but we also needed help

Grocery shops closed soon after the invasion, as it was not possible to deliver goods to the village anymore. We found ourselves among the only food suppliers for the local residents. At first, people were just coming to the farm, and over time, we organized the distribution of milk and leftover cheese with the support of the village council. Families with children were getting it for free, and others paid as much as they could. Every day my friend risked his own life to deliver our products to people.

Russians deliberately targeted utility systems and, at some point, the power supply went off. Without electricity, we couldn’t use milking machines or even pumping stations to get cattle water. We made it through thanks to our neighbors, who brought gasoline for the generator. The first three weeks, until there was some help from the volunteers, were the most difficult ones.

We were forced to leave the farm and sell our cattle

My family left for Europe two weeks before the full-scale war began, but I decided to stay and look after the farm. I probably would have stayed further if the Russians had not started an offensive on Kharkiv. Our village was in one of the directions of their attack.

The stress was hard on me: my right arm and leg began to fail, and later I was diagnosed with a micro stroke. It was difficult to move around, so I turned to my friends for help, and they found volunteers to evacuate me. At first, I went to Kharkiv, but the city was constantly shelled. After all, I ended up in Switzerland with my family.

Animals also suffered due to stress; there was less and less milk. Cows were to give birth in summer, but it was almost impossible to provide regular milking without electricity. In addition, the supplies were running low, and cattle couldn’t go to the pasture because of unexploded shells and mines. With such a combination of factors, we had to make a painful decision and sell our cows.

For now, the goats remain on the farm: my business partner in legal practice takes care of them and helps to sell milk. We also still give some of our products to people for free.

Russia invaded just when we were ready to welcome our first guests

We dreamed of developing ecotourism and welcoming people to our farm. The plan was to arrange a separate area with tables and flower beds where people could relax and taste our products on the spot.

As a pilot project, we invited artists from the Kharkiv State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre for a tour. We also were to organize visits for children from several schools and gymnasiums in Kharkiv and create an entertainment program for them to feel nature and communicate with animals. 

We were ready to open our farm to visitors in the spring. But now, our family does volunteer in Switzerland: there are organizations here that help Ukrainians with food, cloth, and other issues.

I really want to go home. But I also would like to suggest Europeans to develop tools – like grant programs – to help Ukrainian farmers to recover. That will create new jobs, get some people back to Ukraine, and benefit both our country and Europe.

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