The region is one of Ukraine’s agricultural breadbaskets, famous before the war for its watermelons and tomatoes and as a major producer of grains and sunflower oil. Before Russia invaded, Kherson produced more vegetables by volume than any other Ukrainian region, according to government statistics.
A sea corridor, negotiated by the United Nations last year to allow already harvested Ukrainian grain to bypass a Russian blockade and for shipment abroad, has partly alleviated the global food crisis set off by the war. The deal is due to expire on March 18, but even if it is extended, Ukrainian farmers have to be able to plant and harvest grain again for the shipments to continue.
Experts say it is too early to make estimates about the amount of time it might take to clear all of the mines from the Kherson region. Large portions of liberated territory remain in range of Russian guns and are shelled daily, including with cluster munitions, which can spread unexploded bomblets over a large area. A cluster munition attack can affect an area of 20 hectares, Mr. Dvoretskyi said.
“I can’t guarantee that if today I demine one field, that tomorrow the orcs won’t cover it in cluster bombs,” he said, using an insult for Russian troops.
In the meantime, farmers like Mr. Hordienko have, very carefully, begun to survey their own lands. Using a hand-held metal detector as well as a larger apparatus attached to a tractor, he has so far found 1,500 mines, though he thinks there could be hundreds more.
The war did not seem very far away during a recent tour of his fields, outside Beryslav, about 40 miles upriver from the city of Kherson along the Dnipro. Though faint, the boom of artillery was audible in the distance, and the tail sections of rockets stuck out here and there in the fields. A Russian tank, burned to a rusty orange, sat in a thicket of short trees, a small hole in its hull where an armor-piercing round had struck it.