Farmerhood: Helping Ukraine’s Farmers

Outside the city of Mykolaivka, Ukraine, a combine sits in a field full of landmines laid by Russian soldiers. The area around the combine has been cleared, but it is believed there are still mines underneath.

Farming in Ukraine

By Howard G. Buffett

On one of my recent trips to Ukraine, I joined one of our grantees, Global Empowerment Mission (GEM), to deliver emergency food assistance to recently liberated villages on the front lines of Russia’s full-scale invasion. Many of these communities have not received any help since the war started. One day stood out in my mind as emblematic of what it means to live–and try to survive–in the middle of a military conflict. We started the morning after a night of air raid sirens. The air raid sirens are actually the easiest thing to adjust to–they go off so frequently that they become background noise and the constant shelling sounds like thunder from a never-ending storm. What you cannot get used to is the nonstop air attacks on civilians. These are rural farming communities. People try to seek cover in their basements when they have one–and many people live exclusively in their basements now–but that is little protection from a direct hit. Imagine a small town in rural America, except everyday you see bodies pulled from the rubble of demolished homes, people walking around visibly injured, and children who are forever traumatized.

On this day, we traveled to the front line to a town called Zolota Nyva, in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine. The small village was liberated roughly five days before we arrived. I say “roughly” because liberation in this context is never clear-cut as the fighting pushes back and forth. Regardless, liberated does not mean safe. We learned that after we arrived.

We passed tanks and armored personnel carriers as we moved towards our destination. As we got closer to the village, we saw plumes of smoke that were accompanied by large explosions. We knew we were close by the sounds of the howitzers firing.

When we arrived, we had difficulty finding people. Some of the houses were destroyed. The village is small, and we waited along the road as members of our convoy scouted the area. Our vehicles must spread out for safety, and we pulled off the road under trees to be less conspicuous. The Russians do not distinguish between military convoys and humanitarian aid convoys, just as they don’t distinguish between civilians and soldiers so any people or vehicles out in the open and in range of Russian attacks are at risk.

As we moved into the next street, someone emerged from a house. We were likely the first non-military people they have seen in the 18 months since the Russians occupied the village. Most of the team started to quickly unload the boxes of food and water as some of my colleagues had a conversation with the residents to better understand the situation. The military personnel escorting us urged everyone to hurry.

Then I noticed something that was familiar to me from a very different time and place. All at once, every bird from every tree in sight flew up and away. When they fly like this it is quite loud. I immediately thought of the many times I have been in Africa photographing leopards or cheetah. There are two signs that typically give away predator activity: vultures circling a kill or birds literally evacuating trees.

As I was momentarily distracted thinking about how familiar this was, I felt someone grab the pull handle on my vest and start pushing me towards the vehicle. It was one of the military personnel and he was telling me to hurry. Everyone quickly loaded up and our vehicles sped out of the village. We maintained a very fast speed for at least 15 minutes.

Left: This group of people have been living in this basement for months. When I visited Avdiivka on June 15, 2023, only about 1,700 residents remained from a prewar population of 30,000. Avdiivka is a bit like prewar Bahkmut, where Ukrainian troops dug in, both in 2014 and in 2022. Avdiivka has endured heavy shelling since the beginning of the full-scale invasion by Russia.

Middle: As we move to the front lines, it is common to pass military equipment.

Right: When we enter the village of Zolota Nyva, I meet one of only 18 remaining residents, who breaks down in tears. She is sad, happy, and angry, all at once. Many of the people who have stayed behind in places like Zolota Nyva refused to leave their homes because they felt they had nowhere else to go.

When we finally reached a spot where we could debrief, a soldier told me that the birds fly like that when they hear a drone. The same early warning system that worked to warn potential prey in Africa was working in Ukraine. The difference was that we were the prey and the Russian drone was the predator.

I cannot imagine what it is like to live under this constant threat every day. Millions of Ukrainians face different threats each day and each night. In addition to the threats, many people have lost everything they own. One thing I noticed as we traveled through rural areas are the unharvested sunflowers and corn. Huge fields that have been left by farmers either because of the landmines, the fighting, or the complete loss of their farm equipment. Ukraine’s farmers face a daunting future. Many farmers cannot return to their fields until the war ends or Russia is forced back closer to the sovereign borders of Ukraine.

Whenever I visit Ukraine, I cannot help but think about what it means to be a farmer there today and what they have lost. I try to imagine what it would be like to face a similar threat on my own farm at home, to have my livelihood destroyed, my equipment stolen or blown up, my land made unfarmable, and my identity as someone contributing to global food security replaced with that of someone dependent on food assistance to survive. The truth is, I cannot imagine all of that. So instead, I meet with these farmers and their families to hear their stories, to let them know I cannot imagine what they are going through but I can see it is wrong, and I visit the places that are being shelled daily by Russian assaults. Then our Foundation figures out ways to mitigate the impact of this war on people who never asked for their lives to be upended and who do not deserve this attack. We work to get emergency relief to people who need it, and we work to support as many farmers as we can, as close to the front lines as possible, by funding landmine removal, loaning farm equipment, and yes, providing food assistance.

Left: Drones have been used for surveillance and the delivery of explosives.
Right: A farm building near the Kharkiv and Luhansk border served as a base for military operations. I took this photo on March 13, 2023, and the building was destroyed one month later by a Russian high precision Krasnopol rocket on April 11, 2023.

Years ago, our Foundation funded a farmer-to-farmer education series in this publication where U.S. farmers doing innovative work in conservation-based agriculture systems could share their insights with other U.S. farmers. I’m going to dust that idea off here and let some of Ukraine’s farmers share, in their own words, what it’s like to be a farmer in Ukraine these days. In future issues, we will bring you those stories to give you a sense for what it is like to farm in the middle of a war. After the war, Ukraine will need to rebuild its agricultural economy. They will be able to learn a lot from American farmers. Until then, they can teach and remind us how fortunate we are and how much we need them to prevail in their fight for freedom.

Photographs by Howard G. Buffett.

Today, Ukraine’s farmers face many of the same dangers as soldiers fighting on the front lines following Russia’s full-scale invasion. Russian mines litter their fields; thousands of acres of crops have been burned in systematic attacks against food production; farmer fields are pockmarked from artillery explosions; and production equipment, silos, and critical facilities have been stolen or destroyed. Ukraine’s ability to help feed the world has been substantially diminished, and the livelihoods of its farmers have been threatened like never before.

That’s where we–and you–come in: FARMERHOOD is a non-profit helping Ukraine’s small-scale farmers who have been impacted by the war. Our mission is to tap into the remarkable tradition of farmers helping farmers to bring the world’s generosity to Ukraine’s farmers in their time of need.

FARMERHOOD is an online platform that allows individual farmers, coops, and other organizations to direct their financial support to Ukraine to help Ukrainian farmers maintain their business operations, restore their farms, and support the farm workforce.

Over the next year, with support from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, Farm Journal Media will publish a series of first-hand accounts from FARMERHOOD’s farmers. These farmers will share their experiences, hardships, and hopes for the future, as they fight to rebuild their lives and livelihoods. We hope these stories will bring to life the atrocities that Ukrainian farmers have faced since February 2022, and we hope their stories inspire American farmers–the most generous in the world–to support their fellow farmers in Ukraine.

How is Farmerhood helping?

Agricultural inputs:

seeds, fertilizer crop protection

Extension services

to improve the effectiveness of limited use of resources


(vouchers) to help support field operations


(vouchers) to help repair farm facilities


to partially cover farmworkers’ salary and other farm needs in regions with constrained logistics

Who does Farmerhood Help?

FARMERHOOD assists small-scale Ukrainian
farmers with land ranging from 25-500 acres for vegetable producers and 50-1,200 acres for field crop producers. These farmers are located in regions most affected by the war: de-occupied regions and those within an approximately 30 mile zone on the map depicting the front line:

Donation requests are limited to 10-20% of annual direct production costs:

  • Field Crops: approximately $20/acre
  • Vegetables: approximately $60/acre To be eligible for support, farmers must be in full compliance with Ukrainian land and legal registers and U.S. sanctions law.

Key Partners

A Message from a Ukrainian Farmer

We are a small farm located on the border with Russia. Together with my sons, I grow sunflowers, corn, barley, and winter wheat. There has never been such a difficult year in my practice. We were unable to reach the plots of land in the spring due to the columns of Russian vehicles. The fields were prepared for spring sowing, but due to constant shelling, we were not able to sow barley on time.

Because of all these difficulties, we’ve suffered huge losses during harvesting. Faced with a lack of logistics, an increase in the cost of production, and a decrease in the cost of cultivated crops, grain had to be sold at low prices in order to be able to harvest sunflowers, which had almost rotted on the stalk. A large part of the land remained unplanted. Due to constant shelling, the roof of the granary was destroyed by shrapnel, and the tractor was damaged.

–Sergey Shevtsov, Shevtsov Farms (170.2 ac) Sumy Region, Ukraine

A letter from…

Like all Ukrainians, I will remember the first days of the war forever. I was scared, shocked, and confused. After the first night on the cold, concrete floor in the basement of our Kyiv home, I realized occupation is possible even in 21st century Europe. I was not mistaken or dreaming–war was in my home.

The next day, I stopped worrying about shelling and decided to support our territorial defense troops. During the first month of the war, I worked night shifts in the kitchen of a military base. It was a cold and windy February. There were dozens of newcomers–our facilities were not ready for cooking, eating, and sleeping, and it was unclear where we would find food. We were not prepared for war, but we were ready to fight at any price. I was a small part of the defense of our city.

By May of 2022, supply chains had strengthened and volunteers were many. I decided I could be more impactful in my professional sphere: agribusiness.

I entered farming in 2009 by chance. It was impossible to find a job in my specialist field, as all shipbuilding plants in my native Mykolaiv were bankrupt. Grain production and the idea of “feeding the world” captivated me, and within five years I was the Commercial Lead for a 300,000-acre agroholding company. I was also familiar with the challenges and passions of small-scale farmers.

By 2022, Ukraine had become a leading global exporter and an agriculturally progressive country, but after the war started, Black Sea exports essentially shut down. Unshipped stocks pushed down local prices, and farmers in Eastern Ukraine got a double hit: invasion by Russians in Sumy, Chernyhiv, Kyiv, Kharkiv, Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson regions. Thousands of acres were burned or mined. Fields were pockmarked where artillery shells left craters, and equipment, silos, and other facilities were either damaged or destroyed. The lives of farmers were no longer safe, and yet most chose to stay on their land.

In May of 2022, I was fortunate enough to build a team of volunteers to connect farmers across different geographies worldwide with the goal of encouraging farmers to help one another. We believe in the brotherhood of farmers, and from that, FARMERHOOD was born.

Our team understood the level of trust required to gain international support, so it took a year to assemble all parts of the project to ensure transparency and accountability. We frequently faced new problems, and at times it would have been easier to give up, but I had a personal motivation behind these efforts: my husband is on the frontlines.

Vlad and I met at college and we have been together over 22 years. Our daughter, Viktoriia, is a third-year student at college. Vlad is a civil engineer with no experience in the military. After growing up in Russia, he does not speak Ukrainian, but he understands the rules of justice and has the strength to protect his family and home. In the unit where he serves, there are no weekends or holidays, there’s no such thing as “bad weather,” and there’s no room to make mistakes. These men and woman face death daily, and their sole objective is toend the war and restore Ukraine’s borders.

Farming is challenging even in good times; with the ongoing war, the prospect of farming seemed unrealistic, but Ukrainian farmers have been resilient and determined to continue despite burned crops, artillery strikes and damaged equipment. With the strength our farmers showed, there was no other option for FARMERHOOD, or for me and our team, but to also keep going and support their efforts.

In May of 2023, we officially launched FARMERHOOD. More than 20 companies have joined our initiative, including Land O’Lakes, Cargill, Syngenta Ukraine, Kernel-Trade, EarthDaily Agro,, and DAR Charity Fund. The Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food has endorsed our project, and local Ukrainian non- profit organizations, government bodies, and numerous other partners have helped verify farmer requests, promote the project, and secure discounts. Alight, a U.S. nonprofit organization operating since 1979, came on as a fiscal sponsor, enabling tax-deductible contributions in the United States.

This past spring and summer, FARMERHOOD verified more than 450 requests totaling $1.3 million from farmers who have been impacted by the war. Requests continue, as the government estimates that more than 5,000 family farms have been affected by the war. The needs of Ukrainian farmers are huge, but FARMERHOOD only grants 10% to 20% of their direct production costs so we can provide enough support to get farmers back in business while still assisting as many farmers as possible. We ask you to join FARMERHOOD and provide your support.

You can trace real stories on our website (www. to understand these farmers’ fears, losses, challenges, and needs. Ukrainian farmers are all united by a desire to survive and rebuild, sometimes at the cost of their own lives. Your help will allow these farmers to feel understood and supported, and to not lose faith in goodness and brotherhood.

Left: Kateryna’s husband Vlad serving on the frontlines.
Right: Kateryna with her husband Vlad and daughter Viktoriia.

We thank America’s farmers for your leadership in feeding the world and for supporting Ukraine’s farmers during these difficult times.

Kateryna Konashchuk and the FARMERHOOD team of volunteers:

This article originally appeared in the November issue of Farm Journal.
For further details and the full article, please visit the original article at Farm Journal.

To donate by bank transfer/ACH/wire: Request bank details via email to with FARMERHOOD in the subject line.

By check, made payable to Alight and mailed to:

Alight & Farmerhood Donor Service Center PO Box 1002, Minneapolis, MN 55480-1002

Alight (36-3241033) is a 501c3 nonprofit. Your gift is tax-deductible as allowed by law. No goods or services will be received in exchange for this gift.

Alight is the fiscal sponsor for the FARMERHOOD project.


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