There is a developing eco-farm in the village of Ivanopillia near the city of Kostiantynivka. Its owner Serhiy Svyrydenko dreams of unravelling green tourism in a region that is quite new to him. Shortly before the war he and his family returned from seasonal work in Portugal to their native city – Donetsk. After the outbreak of the war with Russia, Serhiy decided to serve as a volunteer fighter and later returned home with the aim of re-building the farming industry on the territories regulated by the Ukrainian authorities.
The farmer breeds goats, pigs, hens, and ducks. His farm also includes a cheese factory and small sausage production. Since 2016, thanks to the funding of the programs “Donetskyi Kurkul” (Ukraine) and “Man in Need” (the Czech Republic), Serhiy has been able to re-build this farm from scratch. He is confident that this is only the beginning of his farming career.
The story of the farmer started with the loss of business “Hospodar” in the regional Donetsk economy. He and his wife had a few shops that sold sausages. With this business, they had enough money to provide for their family needs and maintain 2 flats. However, the beginning of fighting (namely, the Russian armed aggression towards Ukraine since 2014 – editor’s remark) took away not only the peace of people but also Serhiy’s business. Hence, he made a critical decision to leave everything behind and move to the village.
— We’ve had this house for a long time already. We took everything we could when we moved. Then I went and enlisted as a volunteer fighter and served in the 54th division. I returned on the 7th of April 2016. That’s when we began with all of this (farming – editor’s remark).
There is a BMW SUV kept in the garage near their house, and a couple times the family was ready to sell this expensive car. However, Serhiy’s wife needs it to drive on the village roads since it has four wheel drive. But there is also a sentimental reason: Serhiy says that this car is like an ancestral necklace to his wife and selling it can be compared to a sin.
— This is our sacred cow, the remains of bygone luxury.
Now the farmer drives the rickety old 2105 model VAZ (A Soviet era car manufacturing company – editor’s remark).
Life over again
This is not the first time that Serhiy dramatically changed his life circumstances. For example, in 2001 he went to Portugal as a seasonal worker.
— As my deceased mother said, my character can be described by the horoscope: “Your sign is water, and you can take the form of any vessel.”
At first, the farmer worked on a construction site, then in agriculture, in a cork factory, and was even a huntsman. He spent seven years in Portugal before returning to Donetsk. Serhiy decided that European principles of life are good, but that it is better to bring them home and not vice versa.
— So we spent some time there and came back. I also had a Ukrainian flag hanging there as well as traditional embroidered towels, and I asked my mother to send me all this stuff so that I could always have it with me.
The farmer moved to the village with his family in 2014 when it became clear that it was dangerous to run their own business and remain a patriotic Ukrainian in Donetsk. Serhiy immediately went to the army as a volunteer fighter, but he could not fight on the front line for a while. At first he underwent training in Poltava and then was sent to the military unit in Semypolky.
— I said that it was not okay for a woman to be near the front line and help people there, while I was transferred to fight near Kyiv. Very funny. But in July, I moved here, to the 54th division, and then everything changed…
Serhiy returned from the war in 2016 and immediately started thinking about the beginning of a new life, this time as a farmer.
Goats, “Donetsk Kurkul” and a strange dove
The family planned to breed several species of animals: goats, chickens, ducks, and geese. Goats appeared first. It was not difficult to look after them – there was a lot of information on the internet and Serhiy was accustomed to hard work. He imported a male Anglo-Nubian breed from Germany for fertilization. The alpha goat was named Sultan and is the star and main pride of the family. This handsome guy lives alone in a shed, while other goats walk freely in the stable. In general, the animals here are mostly independent, that’s their nature.
— Today I just got an electric shepherd, we will take goats out of the gate. Ducks too, they live as they wish. They feed mainly on flies, goat droppings – it’s normal, environmentally friendly.
There are 26 milch goats on the farm right now, while others are not even counted. The Svyrydenkos have always loved goat cheese, so Serhiy has expressed an interest in expanding their home business. In March 2018, the Svyrydenkos built a cheese factory thanks to funding received from the Donetsk Regional State Administration’s program “Ukrainian Donetsk Kurkul” to support small and medium-sized businesses.
— The program is as follows: you develop a business plan and submit it. The local budget provides fifty percent and the regional budget provides the other fifty percent of the financial assistance.
You can only enter the cheese factory without shoes since the production facility needs to be perfectly clean. There are several types of cheeses cooked here, including the elite ones, with molds. However, the best-selling cheese is traditional brynza.
— We sell our cheeses in some shops in Slovyansk, Kostiantynivka, Kramatorsk and actively promote them through Facebook. Winter-autumn sales are profitable, but in summer the income is rather mediocre. You know, it is not a good idea to send such goods by mail…
The most difficult thing in the transition to farming was adapting sleeping patterns to fit that of his poultry. Serhiy has always been a night owl, but now he wakes up at half past four in summer and at six in winter. He says that life has become funnier because animals never stop surprising him. He often tells the story of how a dove joined his flock of ducks. Its male partner died in a chimney, and so she found herself a new habitat.
— The dove considers herself a duck! And even when we found a new male partner, they did not fly away. It stayed in the yard and thinks she’s a cock-duck.
Frost-resistant pigs and green tourism for the locals
The farm expands according to environmental principles: Serhiy does not use artificial fodder and nothing goes to waste. Due to the cheese production, there was a lot of whey, and Serhiy started to breed pigs that could consume it, which is both delicious and healthy for them. At first, there was one boar and three female species. Now the farmer has fifteen fat pigs of all ages walking in the paddock.
— This breed is called Hungarian Mangalica. Why is it unique? Firstly, it is a relative of the Iberian black pig. But the latter cannot live here because of the cold climate. The Hungarian Mangalica adapts well to its environment, and it can live here beginning at one-month-old.
A little bit farther from the large open-air paddock, there are small wooden barns where the pigs warm themselves when it gets very cold outside.
— I have already slaughtered two of them simply because we needed pork and had no money. This breed is good, gives quality meat, and most importantly, has never consumed starter feed. Thus, there are no chemicals.
There are two big plans for the future: to move pigs away from the cheese factory and to build a new paddock in the field for green tourism. The first goal is almost accomplished. Serhiy waits for the funding of UAH 52 thousand from the Czech program “Man in Need” in order to transfer the pigs. The second goal is much more interesting: the farmer dreams of building another huge paddock for animals. The Svyrydenkos plan to provide tours there.
— It would be interesting because many urban dwellers do not know what rural life is like. People who live in the city cannot differentiate a pheasant and a duck. They are very surprised to see animals, especially such pigs.
This type of tourism is very popular in Western Europe, particularly in Germany, France, and Switzerland. Agricultural excursions instill a love of animals and respect for farming in the locals. Having set the goal of bringing European principles of life home, despite the war and the complexity of the new work, Serhiy takes little but confident steps to achieve it.
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