On Thursday, February 24, the first day of Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked, unjustified and increasingly brutal war against Ukraine, a local woman in Henychesk went viral when she was filmed angrily confronted a heavily armed Russian soldier on the street.
“What the f*** are you doing here?” she asked, berating him by declaring, ‘You are residents, you are fascists! What the hell are you doing on our land with all those guns?’
Ignoring his attempts to spawn her, she waved a handful of seeds instead and said, “Take these seeds and put them in your pockets so that at least sunflowers will grow when you all lay down here.”
With grim pragmatism, she imagined the flowers sprouting from the uniforms of the Russian dead, drawing bitter comfort from nature’s inevitable triumph over human barbarity and in the spirit of her people, as resilient as the earth.
The sunflower (or “soniashnyk”) is the national flower of Ukraine and has been cultivated in the central and eastern steppes since the mid-18th century, grown for its seeds, eaten as a snack or crushed into oil, an important ingredient in cooking and a vital export product.
The popularity of sunflower oil in Ukraine is attributed to the influence of the Orthodox Church, which banned the use of butter and lard in domestic cooking during Lent, but did not enact such a ban on vegetable alternatives.
Together, Ukraine and Russia currently produce about 70-80 percent of the world’s total sunflower oil, with the former seeding 6.5 million hectares in 2020-21, according to Ukraine’s Ministry of Agricultural Development.
Dnipropetrovsk, Kirovohrad, Kharkiv, Zaporizhia, Nikolaev, Luhansk, Odessa and Poltava are the main growth regions, accounting for 62 percent of that total.
But with many of those same areas now arenas of war, Ukrainian sunflower oil production looks set to be severely disrupted this year as crushing and bottling plants close during the fighting, ports on the Black Sea remain closed and roads and railways are handed over to priority. indicate the mass evacuation of refugees to neighboring countries such as Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Moldova.
The planting season in April and May is also likely to be interrupted by the conflict, which will also affect next year’s crop, with limited access to fertilizers, further complicating matters.
The EU typically imports as much as 200,000 tons of Ukrainian sunflower oil per month, according to trade group Fedoil, but several Spanish supermarket chains have already set limits per customer on the number of bottles shoppers can buy in anticipation of an impending shortage, which in turn could have a knock-on effect. can have on the production of snacks that are popular in the West.
“There is a risk to supply and demand for the next campaign when there are tensions and military actions in agricultural areas – many roads are blocked, commercial businesses are not working, farmers are unable to plant and may reduce the average acreage if some areas are occupied,” one trader told S&P Global.
But the sunflower will endure because it always does, the plant itself an emblem of optimism for its hardiness in the ground, its roots that make light work of hard clay soils, its stem full of nitrogen and its face always tilted to the sun.
That is why it was adopted by the people of Ukraine, why it has become a symbol of solidarity with their plight around the world and why sunflowers were planted on the Pervomaysk missile base in 1996 to celebrate the country’s renunciation of the arsenal of nuclear weapons it had inherited after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
One could say that Ukraine’s own blue and yellow flag resembles a clear blue sky looming over a blooming field of crops, promising prosperity and abundance even in the darkest days of famine and want.
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