Pietro Turilli, Heifer’s Vice President for Heifer’s Central/Eastern Europe area, told me, “you’ve got to talk to this guy. He’s our biggest supporter. He made all this possible.” I’m intrigued. So in a brand new, high-tech barn with roll-up plastic walls and heated, automatic drip waterers, I spent a few minutes with the diminutive man Alexei Sakarchuk, a cancer survivor and persistent fighter. Ukraine Program Director Anna Pidgorna translated for me.
“I am the founding father of the co-op movement in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast,” he told me humbly (if “humble” can be applied to a statement like that).
BF: How did you get started with co-ops?
AS: I started this in 2000. I addressed Ukraine’s government with this problem but no one listened. I went to parliament, other branches… They dismissed me.
After the Internet, I learned about a Canadian project being implemented
in Lviv. I went there and met Viktor Teres [Heifer's Ukraine country director]. Together, we prepared a project proposal for Heifer and it was accepted. Since 2006, we are partners. So in 2006, the first co-op was started in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, Andriivka village.
BF: Were you always a supporter of co-ops?
AS: Before that, we were on the Soviet collective farm system. “Co-operatives” existed, but they were not real
co-operatives. They were bad. These were state entities. They did not hold to co-operative principles. There was no transparency, no honesty, no opportunity to elect members, no “someone helps you-you help someone back.” It just did not exist. NOW it exists.
Right now, there are three in Dniproperovsk and there will be a fourth by the end of the year. We did not establish them by force. We tried to convince them [members] by showing them good examples such as this one. This is a very good example. The farm that you saw in Olexsandrivka [under construction-- the ground breaking in another post] will be super.
BF: Are they all dairy co-ops?
AS: Most are dairy, but there is also one vegetable co-op. they produce vegetables without any pesticides or chemicals.
BF: Certified organic?
AS: Not yet. It’s only two years old. We did sample analysis for water and soil quality. We brought in California red worms to process manure. We also used biological agents– we don’t use pesticides or herbicides; we use environmentally friendly control mechanisms.
BF: Have you always been a farmer?
AS: I was never a farmer!
BF: Then why did you decide to get involved in this?
AS: Because I have a brain and a heart. And a will for people to live better. I don’t want anything for my pockets. A lot of our leaders think only of gaining more income. That’s unfortunate.
BF: You have a good brain and heart.
By: Bill Fitzgerald