The Russians are at it again with the ransacking, thievery, and destruction. Ukrainian Human Rights Chief Lyudmyla Denisova reported last Monday that the Russian forces are stealing and destroying farm equipment and grain from Ukrainian farmers in what is likely to cause famine in Ukraine and other parts of the world.  There are numerous accounts of Russian forces stealing farm equipment and grain in Ukraine since the start of the war. However, recent reports suggest that the attacks might be coordinated.

Agriculture Deputy Minister Taras Vysotskiy stated on Ukrainian national TV that some 1.5 million tons of grain stored in occupied territories were stolen by Russian forces. Similarly, Agriculture Minister Mykola Solskyi reported that Russian thievery of grain was prominent and had increased in the past two weeks.

“I personally hear this from many silo owners in the occupied territory. This is outright robbery. And this is happening everywhere in occupied territory,” Solskyi said. “There will soon be a wheat harvest in the south. But farmers in this situation may well say: ‘Here are the keys to the tractor – go collect it yourself, if you want,'” he added.

A farm warehouse destroyed in Ukraine (Iuliia Mendel). Source: https://twitter.com/IuliiaMendel/status/1520735124853346304https://twitter.com/IuliiaMendel/status/1520735124853346304
A farm warehouse destroyed in Ukraine (Iuliia Mende/Twitter)

For context regarding why this is important, wheat is the second most-produced grain in the world next to corn. Both Russia and Ukraine are top exporters of wheat, with Russia being the world’s top exporter and Ukraine at the 5th or 6th, accounting for 7% of global sales in 2019. Together, Ukraine and Russia produce 25.4% of the world’s wheat.  Some part of Putin’s war calculus was the prospect of absorbing Ukraine to eliminate a competitor in grain exports or to destroy it as a competitor altogether.

Economically, Russians stealing farm equipment and destroying crops and grain leads to Ukraine not having anything to export, affecting not just revenue to the country but also to feed their population. More so, their port cities are currently besieged, so it would be hard to transport wheat to other countries. Most importantly, if Russians continue to steal and destroy these crops, Ukrainians can possibly have a food shortage as these grains and crops are also eaten domestically.

This fatally undermines Kremlin propaganda at the beginning of the war that Russia was saving their Ukrainian brothers and sisters from the Nazi government of President Zelensky. Russia expected to be able to take the entire country intact in a few days, now that the war is stretching into its second month, Russian strategic aims have changed as well to destroying Ukraine’s economy of energy exports and agriculture to impoverish and starve the population into submission.  This signals that the Russians are moving away from a limited war strategy to one of total war seeking to reduce Ukraine to rubble.  If Putin cannot take all of Ukraine in one piece, it will then leave Ukraine shattered into pieces.

Where Exactly Are These Robberies and Destruction Taking Place?

According to multiple Ukrainian officials, there are multiple locations where the robberies and destruction of silos are taking place.

One of the very first instances where Ukrainian farmers were reported to be looted was in Kherson, a city that is now under Russian control. Farmers reported that Russian troops came to their farms and started “nationalizing” the farms. They then took two cars and food without paying. This also came with reports of Russian troops “liberating” shops and supermarkets, pillaging these establishments (and homes) for whatever food and valuables they could get. This was no surprise as the Russians at that time were starving due to supply and logistical issues encountered by the Russian army.

Currently, there are reports of grain stealing and farm equipment robberies in the Dnipropetrovsk region. Ukrainian officials also report that “several hundred thousand tons” of grain were stolen from Zaporizhzhya, Kherson, Donetsk, and Luhansk.

Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Emine Dzheppar reported that Russia was deliberately hitting agricultural warehouses in said area. Reports have also surfaced that there is significant damage to these farms and warehouses, which presents a very large problem for the Ukrainians.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has also weighed in on the matter and said that the Russians were engaging in a “war of extermination” as they targeted agricultural enterprises that may cause a global food security issue.

These thieveries have also been reported in the city of Melitopol, where the Russians stole all equipment from a farm equipment dealership and transported them to Chechnya. The dealership “Agrotek” was looted by the Russians, with all stolen goods valued at $5 million, with harvesters alone worth $300,000 each. Some were transported to Russian villages, while others were shipped to Chechnya. How did the dealership know this? It is because the farm equipment has GPS that could be tracked. They also could be controlled remotely.

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Bad luck for the Russians indeed as the farm equipment could not even be turned on as the Ukrainians can also lock the equipment remotely, leaving the equipment useless unless they can find a way to disable the lock.

Ukrainian farm destroyed in the Poltava region (Liveaumap). Source: https://twitter.com/Liveuamap/status/1515266594380959746
Ukrainian farm destroyed in the Poltava region (Liveaumap/Twitter)

“When the invaders drove the stolen harvesters to Chechnya, they realized that they could not even turn them on because the harvesters were locked remotely,” an informant said to CTV news.

The Russians are also doing business while they’re in Ukraine. Apparently, they also proposed to local Ukrainian farmers that they could share profits for a 50/50 split. However, the farmers in the area could not even work as grain elevators were destroyed, and the farm equipment was stolen.

Since the farmers couldn’t work and they could not move the grain, they simply took the grain (probably with their trucks) and took it to Crimea.

“We have clear evidence that they unloaded grain from the Melitopol city elevator. They robbed the elevator along with private farms,” the Mayor of Melitopol said to CNN.

Why Are They Doing This?

This reveals a few things about the Russian forces. First, they learned from their mistakes during the first portion of their invasion centered on capturing Kyiv as they now know what effects starvation has on its troops. So, they may be trying to devastate not just the Ukrainian Armed Forces but also the Ukrainian civilians by ridding them of food that they need to survive.

Second, the Russian forces are probably out to make a few bucks while in Ukraine, as they aren’t really paid much. Stealing the farm equipment and selling it to Russians can certainly be an alternative source of income for them if the act was of their own will. Conscripts reportedly earn just $30, and regular soldiers make $900, so they aren’t exactly living large.

Third, they may be suffering from food issues themselves. It’s not a secret that the Russian troops were once starving in Ukraine as they were reportedly eating stray dogs to fill their stomachs. It certainly can be the case that they have since learned from their mistakes and stocked up on MREs, which have been reported to be expired in previous intel. However, they may very well be transporting the grain to Russian territory for them to get processed, probably to feed their own troops or maybe to sell. No reports have surfaced that they were actually doing this, but we can certainly hypothesize what they’re doing with these grains.

Evoked Memories of the Holodomor

These recent efforts to starve the Ukrainians are reminiscent of the “Holodomor” which had happened in Ukraine from 1931 to 1934 (some say 1932 to 1933). Also known as the “Terror-Famine” or the “Great Famine,” the Holomodor saw some 2.5 million to 5 million dead when then-Soviet leader Joseph Stalin wanted to collectivize agriculture in 1929, which led to a drop in production.

This started rebellions in then-Soviet Ukraine. To punish these people, the Politburo prevented Ukrainians from receiving food, and they were also forbidden to leave Ukraine to search for food. The hunger drove the Ukrainians to cannibalism, with the peasants dying the most.

All this stolen farm equipment may not be of much use, tractors and combines sold by US farm equipment makers in Ukraine often have GPS trackers and the ability to remotely disable the vehicle.  These are not simple fuel pump shut-off switches either. To make defeating them more difficult, these security devices disable the transmission, hydraulics, ignition, fuel pump, steering, and onboard diagnostic computer.  They can’t be hot-wired and require considerable sophistication to bypass in order to get the tractor or combine running again.