In Ukraine, most of the market with chicken meat and poultry products is occupied by the conglomerate „Mironivsky Hliboprodukt“ (MHP), owned by the oligarch Yuriy Kosyuk. The amount of production of the company attacks a million tons of chicken meat per year, whereas approximately one fourth of it goes on export. MHP agriculture holding consists of all parts of the production cycle – fields and grain production (Zernoproduct), fodder production, incubator, rearing facilities - chicken farms (brigades), slaughter house, meat processing and bone meal production plant, waste water treatment facilities (Vinnytsia poultry farm), construction of the brigades (Vinnytsia Broiler) etc. Such structure enables the company to cover the whole process of meat production with it´s own resources. Such an advantage was enabled by a big loans from international financial institutions, such as European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).
Cheap loans for big profits
To have a complete background of the situation, it´s important to mention the land market situation in Ukraine, which helped to such a massive expansion of one private company. There is no land market established in Ukraine – MHP is concluding contracts on leasing of the fields for construction for 49 years – which is virtually their purchase. Payment is about 180,000 UAH (about 6000 Euros) for standard piece of land (ca 2 hectares) for the whole period of the contract paid in advance. During the privatization of collective farms, practically each family or person obtained from the state approximately 2 hectares of the field (share in kolkhoz). Still about 10 million hectares are owned by the state as the agricultural land reserve and people can ask for it. When MHP needs the land, it has to go to the villagers and convince many of them for each brigade or facility. People who need the money more are making pressure on the others in the village, who may be not that convenient with the observed practices of the company. Another issue is, that MHP actually became one of the biggest employers in the region, providing social benefits to it´s workers. For many people, working in MHP may be the easiest option of securing a stabile job. On the other hand, many reported unsatisfactory conditions in chicken farms both for the workers and animals, and also we´ve heard complaints about low level of salaries.
Since 2010, there was 12 chicken brigades constructed around the town of Ladyzhyn in Vinnytsia region, three other brigades are being constructed and six are under preparation. Each separate MHP´s chicken farm (brigade) includes 38 houses in this region, whereas it´s beleived that in each brigade there is more than one million chicken.
Tough practices in chicken region
On the first day of the mission, the team consisting of members of Ekodiya and Arnika, visited many problematic sites, spoke both with local activists and representatives of local administration, and in the end – after a serious clash with a private security – also met the head of one of the main MHP´s subsidies. But to begin at the start – after a visit of two operating brigades and unsuccessfull tries to speak with it´s employees, we took part at the public meeting in Mankivka village. There is an intention of the company to bulit a new brigade close to river Bug, which flows nearby the village, and the field considered for construction is very close to the place of public resort and beaches ‘Dubky’, as well as natural picturesque and unique ravine. However, the current land-owners still do not want to lease the lands to MHP. A report from Mykhailivka village council Chairman has been presented on the meeting, the issues of the new brigade in the fields close to river Bug were not discussed.
After the meeting we spoke with many local activists about the situation in the region. There is many stories of threatening to local activists, cases of firing their relatives from job at the company´s subsiders, stalking of the activists´ leaders and there are even cases of serious physical violence and beatings of activists by hired security services. Right after our visit of one local woman, who´s house suffers from huge traffic of trucks with chicken, fodder or manure, she received a call with threats persuading her to not to speak with us any other time. FFM team submitted the complaint to the public relation officer of MHP in Kiev immediately with CC to the international banks. Such stories are not unusual; we´ve witnessed, that agressive practices and use of power is still a common way of acting in this case.
In the afternoon, we have visited a new construction site of a poultry brigade close to Vasylivka village. We assumed, that the constructed brigade has no building permissions incl. missing Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), as there were no public information about release of such documents. We went on the site, as there was no signs marking a construction site or a private property; after short time, the security of Vinnytskiy Broiler arrived and started to threaten us and the local activists, who were accompanying us. After all, we called the police and demanded the missing documents for construction. After the police wrote a protocol about the clash with the security, the security proposed to visit the office of Vinnytskiy Broiler to see documents on building preparation. So after tough moments on the site, we were invited on kind of official meeting with the CEO of the subsidy Igor Leshchenko, a bodybuilder and bussinessman, where we received documents of preliminary EIA, the permits to remove soil and notification about preparatory works for overview. We weren´t allowed to photocopy the documents, needless to say, that as of international standards, it´s not possible to do preparatory works without EIA. But probably the most important point is, that this visit, which actually didn´t have a pleasant character, wouldn´t happen without our call to MHP´s headquarters in Kiev, which we made on the site. After that, the aggresive behaviour of the security changed and in a moment it was obvious, that our presence in the region may bring attention.
Education and knowledge sharing as an activist tool
The next day, we organised a seminar and a workshop for local activists in Ladyzhyn. Members of Arnika and Ekodiya held lectures on public participation and legal aspects of access to information. We´ve shown some examples of cases from the Czech republic, where the civil society took part and demanded it´s rights. The second block of the event was focused on networking of the activists – the participants shared their experiences with the struggles against poultry brigades and learned about concrete cases in different villages. Such networking of activists in the region dealing with the same problem is one of the most important parts of the activities. The surprising fact of local activism in ukrainian countryside – at least in the case of MHP – is, that basically only older people take part. There are no signs of youth activism in the region – maybe the reason is, that many young people leave the region for better job, and the rest actually works for the company or simply doesn´t care.
Many sites, similar pollution, same practices
Probably the biggest problem caused by intensive poultry farming in the region is a massive traffic, which leads to serious damages of the houses of the villagers. Except of the smell, soil and water pollution, the traffic is the most visible consequence of the chicken business in Vinnytsia. We spoke with many villagers, whose houses suffer with cracks caused by the vibrations from heavy trucks passing by. In the village of Olyanitsya, all the houses are already damaged from the heavy traffic, regarding to a research from past years. Locals reported even traffic jams in a village with only hundreds of residents - trucks with chicken, concrete mixers, waste water tanks, trailers – hundreds of cars daily. Although there is a speed reduction (40 km/h), drivers do not respect it. Many people in the village put new plastic windows to protect themselves from noise, other measures are not implemented.
The local administration is in tough position. MHP brings jobs and investments to poor region, on the other hand it divides the society and re-creates the land of small and diverse agriculture into a big slaughter machine. The people have limited access to information, and the public and private sector seems quite interconnected in several cases. There are manure and dumping sites spreaded accross the region, endagering the local water streams and soil with aggressive nitrates. In Chetvertinyvka the villagers showed us the waste landfill where MHP’s fodder plant puts their waste. We found there packaging from antibiotics and food additives.
We didn´t expect, that the problem with intensive industrial poultry farming may be that big and complex. From the ecological aspects to the human rights aspects, the case we´ve discovered on our first mission to Ukraine, left us in a big shock. Vinnytsia is only one out of 4 regions in Ukraine, where MHP operates. Together with the company´s intentions on further expansion to the EU, we figured out there has to be bigger actions taken and international pressure to change the practices we´ve observed. Therefore, we are keen to join our colleagues from Ekodiya and Bankwatch, who are dealing with the problem for a few years already, and will try to join their efforts to help the locals, who have only limited tools to improve the situation.