The death of a farmer rarely makes global news—but Oleksiy Vadaturskyi was no ordinary farmer.
He died at his home on July 31, as Russian missiles exploded in Mykolaiv, a Ukrainian city near the Black Sea, according to press reports. The media has taken to labeling Vadaturskyi a “tycoon,” a “multi-millionaire,” and “Ukraine’s richest businessman.” Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky called him a “hero.”
He may have been those things. But he was also a farmer—and he was a member of the Global Farmer Network, an international organization of farmers who seek to promote trade and technology in agriculture.
I’m one of five founders of the Global Farmer Network as well as its current chairman. Although I never met Vadaturskyi, I speak for myself and the members of our group when I say that we mourn his death and extend our deepest condolences to his family and his country.
We also believe it’s time for this brutal war to end.
Farming shouldn’t be dangerous, but it isn’t always safe. Working with machinery and large animals comes with risk.
Wars are different. I’ve never had to plant corn or reap soybeans in a battle zone, but other members of the Global Farmer Network have. Motlatsi Musi of South Africa, for instance, has described driving his tractor through a field of landmines. More recently, Kornelus Kees Huizinga has shared harrowing stories from his farm in embattled Ukraine.
Vadaturskyi’s death made news because of his success as a master of grain logistics. The company he created, Nibulon, has thrived by giving Ukrainian farmers the means to export what they grow to the rest of the world.
Yet it all started on his parents’ family farm. Vadaturskyi grew up in a rural village near Odessa. “I was interested in many things at school, in particular, growing plants and rabbits,” he said in a 2016 interview. He apparently did his homework, too, because he won a scholarship to a university. Then he worked on construction projects and bread production and showed a talent for managing people and teams. In 1991, as the Iron Curtain fell, he started Nibulon.
Now he’s gone, at the age of 74.
Nobody knows exactly how many people have died in the fighting between Russia and Ukraine, but most estimates put the number at more than 10,000. In this sense, Vadaturskyi is just another victim in a senseless conflict that has raged for too long.
Yet he’s also an irreplaceable leader and his death was unnecessary. Every death in this war is the result of a man-made disaster.
Farmers know all about natural disasters. We deal with them constantly, in the form of droughts and hailstorms and other varieties of extreme weather. They pose huge challenges, but hard times are also a part of a farmer’s life.
Man-made disasters are more frustrating because unlike natural disasters, they are avoidable. A perfect example is the case of Sri Lanka, where poor leadership and bad choices about agricultural policy have plunged an island nation into political and economic crisis.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a man-made disaster that victimizes the whole world because it threatens food security everywhere. A startling new report from the United Nations shows how the world is sliding toward hunger and malnutrition. There are plenty of culprits, including the natural disasters of disease and droughts. The war, however, is a man-made disaster that has made everything worse.
The unwarranted death of Vadaturskyi casts a dark shadow over what should be a moment of hope: Less than 24 hours after his demise, the first ship to leave a Ukrainian port with Ukrainian grain since the start of the war in February began to make its way to Lebanon, as part of a deal brokered by Turkey to loosen Russia’s naval blockade.
This is a small step in restoring the world’s food security. The ultimate solution, however, is for this mindless war to end—and for farmers to get back to growing food without having to fear for their lives.