Only one of forty pearl hens and ten of a hundred hens survived. Out of twenty-six sheep, only six lambs stayed alive. But two of them were severely wounded, their legs shot through. They are being treated, but without success so far. Iryna Bohuslavska lists one loss after another in her farmstead in Kyiv Region.
“Out of twenty-seven goats, only the male goat Amber is still alive. I can’t imagine how it happened. Maybe he hid in the hay and they just didn’t notice him, so he wasn’t shot like the others,” she tells us. Her farm in Kyiv Region, named Sunny Farm, was destroyed by Russians when the village was under occupation. It took Iryna many years to build it. It took the Russian army only one month to destroy it.
Iryna started the process of building up her farm ten years ago. In time, she managed to establish a large pedigree farm, where Iryna and her family were breeding goats, sheep, rabbits, chicken, pheasants and pearl hens. They also had a cheese dairy, a lake, a flower garden, neat flower-beds, and a house. If you look at the pictures from life before the war, they are saturated with sunshine.
“We were very well known all around Ukraine. We had a lot of orders. The baby goats were pre-ordered a year before they were born. We had great plans. And then the big war started,” Iryna says.
In the recent pictures of the farm there is no more sun. Sunny Farm is located in the small village of Lypivka near Makariv, Kyiv Region. It was invaded by Russian troops on the first week of Russia’s full-scale invasion into Ukraine.
Iryna is in Poland now together with her husband and three kids. Her husband is of Polish origin, and they have a place in Warsaw. They left Lypivka back on February 24 when Russian tanks were already moving towards it.
“We tried to persuade my mother, brother and his family to leave with us. But they and the guards that used to work at the farm decided to stay. At that point, nobody had any idea what it would be like,” explains Iryna.
The connection with their family was broken in a few days. Iryna learned about some things from the news, for example the fact that Makariv and Lypivka were occupied, or the fact that Russian soldiers were settled in almost all the houses of the village. Other things she learned only later.
“As a matter of fact, the Russian soldiers that were settled in Lypivka were mostly young boys aged 18–24. And we were actually very lucky, if I can say that. Thank God we didn’t have rapes or mass murders, like in Andriyivka, which is right next to our village. It was horrible there. We were just lucky,” Iryna repeats.
One day she suddenly received a call from her family. It turned out they had found an old button phone and tried to reach her. “Sometimes they had a cell connection. At least we knew that they were alive,” says Iryna, who was able to breathe a sigh of relief at that point.
Russian troops occupied the territory of a private golf club near Lypivka and made a base out of it. The village was constantly shelled, so Iryna’s relatives stayed in the cellar under the house almost all the time.
“They didn’t have a problem with food. We’ve always had some food stocked. I had frozen cabbage rolls and stuffed crepes. Even when the power was cut off, the freezers kept the cold for a while. They had eggs, milk, meat,” she says.
They cooked on a fire outside. They used water from the lake. Twice a day they took a white flag and went to feed the animals. The cattle pens were located 600 meters from the house, and they had to cross that distance despite constant shelling.
In early March, a missile hit the house and basically tore off half of it. When Iryna’s relatives heard the whizz, they quickly jumped into the cellar. The missile destroyed the kitchen and dining room, but the foundation of the house wasn’t damaged. Everyone hiding in the cellar survived.
“In a few days we learned that some people from the village managed to escape. We started calling mum. Later we learned that they could hear us, even though we couldn’t hear them. We shouted: pack up and leave! And they decided to try,” recalls Iryna.
Most of the equipment at the farm was damaged by this time, either burned or shelled. The Russians cut the tires or shot them through, taking away the batteries from cars. At last they managed to find the only one that was undamaged. On March 6, they got into a car with a hole in its hood from the shelling and left.
“Mum says that they were leaving as if it was the last trip in their lives… They were lucky to escape. The others who tried to leave the outskirts of Makariv later were shot. This way our co-worker, our accountant Olha was killed…” says Iryna.
Now her mother and sister-in-law are in Warsaw together with Iryna’s family.
“My mother did a great job. She is 70 and she went through all of it. All I wanted is for my loved ones to survive,” says Iryna.
Meanwhile the animals were being taken care of by the farm worker Myroslava who lived in the village. She visited them every other day while the Russians allowed her to do so. She couldn’t get there only during the last three days of occupation. The Russians didn’t allow her to pass. It all probably happened during those three days. When the Russians retreated and the worker could get to the farm, all the animals were shot dead. The cats, of whom Iryna has twelve, as well as her five dogs, including her favorite Bernese mountain dog Bern, survived. But Bern was shot in the paw.
“Pheasants, peacocks, pearl hens… They were all shot. Goats, sheep… The Rusians were envious of our good life.This is what they told Myroslava, ‘Your preserved fruit and vegetables are so delicious, you have a lot of potatoes. How do you manage to have such a good life?’ How dare we…” Iryna says. “They took everything from the cellars: meat, even all the potatoes were taken. Everything that couldn’t be taken was destroyed. I feel like they did it on purpose to create an artificial famine here… Maybe because they were mad that we didn’t welcome them with open arms?”
Iryna has many questions and no answers, but she is stubbornly trying to find them as if it will help her find peace with reality.
“They uprooted our trees. Even dog houses were destroyed. Why? They stole power tools, all the syringes and antibiotics I had bought to treat the animals. They drank all the alcohol and ate all the sweets. Our things were stolen. Stuff was scattered on the floor. They spilled cereal and tea out of their containers… Maybe they were looking for something like gold and diamonds? They threw a grenade into the sauna. They went to the bathroom right on the carpets and left all that waste behind. Did they just want to hurt us? I can’t comprehend all this,” Iryna says.
After Lypivka was liberated by the Ukrainian Army, de-mining experts came to the farm. A lot of bombs and anti-tank mines were still there. Iryna is getting used to the thought that she will soon see her destroyed property not only on pictures but with her own eyes. Iryna wanted to give the surviving animals away. But the farm workers asked to keep them at the farm.
“I understand them. They are attached to the animals, they need jobs and we support them with wages as much as we can. But I try not to think about what happened and about rebuilding what has been lost. A lot of European breeders wrote to us and offered help with rebuilding and providing animals. They also invited us to come and stay at their farms. But right now the thought of owning animals hurts. Maybe in time it will pass. People get used to everything,” she says.
Though it seems to be another question without a final answer.
“I’d rather tell you about a little miracle. After the territory was liberated, twelve young cows wandered into it. We kept them while we were looking for their owner. And you know what? Part of our farm, the cheese dairy, boilers, the wood we stored for heating were all burned. But by some miracle, the hay and wheat required to feed these cows remained unharmed, as if on purpose,” she says.
The owner was found in a week, a man from a neighboring village who used to have 32 cows and whose farm was shelled.
“We thought for a while how we could know that he was the real owner,” explains Iryna. “But he had tears in his eyes when he approached his cows, he called the bull and the animal started running towards him. Even though the cows were scared and spooked. They would not come close to our workers. The animals lived on our farm for another week, and then he took them home. We couldn’t save ours but we saved them.”
Now the farm is being brought back to order step by step. And the surviving trees have started to blossom.