This story is about a factory for the production of agricultural machinery, which an Irishman built in Ukraine right on the border with Belarus – a key ally of Putin’s.

Kyiv Post looks at economic progress in the border zone of the Chernihiv region.

The Chernihiv region north of Kyiv has become a “blind alley,” with no communication with Russia and Belarus. The roads here are in excellent condition because the Ukrainian government takes care of the infrastructure so their forces can regroup quickly if need be.

Slavutych is the youngest city in Ukraine, located 100 miles from Kyiv. It was built from scratch in the late 1980s for workers at the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant, who were later evacuated from the area after the disaster.

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It is located in the Chernihiv region, almost on the very border with Belarus – several kilometers from the Dnipro River, which separates the two states here.Some people left the city when the Chornobyl nuclear power plant closed, which, despite the accident in 1986, continued to operate until the early 2000s. However, many people continued to work there. They built a new shelter over the old sarcophagus and participated in the decommissioning of the station.

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The Mayor said the city, which launched its first underground school earlier this year, was allocating its funds for the new schools to make headway as soon as possible.

But the Russian invasion of 2022 also dealt a blow here because the bridge over the Dnipro that station workers had to cross was blown up – now you need to travel more than 50 miles every day to get there, says Engineer Serhii Krasykov.

“I have two workshops – a turbine shop and a shelter operation shop. The station lives, the station works, but there are difficulties in delivering staff to the site and living conditions. While we manage, not everyone can manage driving back and forth, 6 hours and 130 kilometers,” Krasykov said.

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But others, like Thomas Carpenter, are not afraid of the city’s border status. The Irishman founded a factory for the production of agricultural machinery here a few years ago. He says that he chose the Chernihiv region for a reason.

“I came here in 2016, not in this area, but in Kozelets, looking to grow potatoes originally. And we did, and we still do. But what I see, Ukraine needs machinery for potatoes,” Carpenter said.

For a long time in Ukraine, potatoes were picked by hand – and this did not change even in the 20th century. The Soviet Union mobilized soldiers, students, and even teachers to harvest potatoes. The main problem was that the USSR never learned how to make equipment that would carefully collect potatoes without damaging them. Thomas decided to fill the gap.

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“As progress came, young people moved to the cities and countries to study, and fewer people do this work. The matter of how to harvest without damage becomes crucial. As potatoes get more expensive, people do not want to buy damaged potatoes. It’s about how you save the crop! If you grow 40 tons per hectare and damage 50 percent, you can sell only 20 percent. The rest is wasted money,” Carpenter said.

More than 20 people work here – all local, from Chernihiv and Slavutych. Carpenter was attracted to the region because there are many technical personnel with experience working in Chornobyl.

The manufacturer has all the workshops: metalworking, prefabrication, sandblasting, and painting. He, as an engineer, designs all his structures himself, like this planting and harvesting machine that costs several thousand dollars.

“This is actually a planter! I invented it with the best knowledge I have seen in 30 years. I made it simple and mechanical to suit this country because there is not much access to high technologies and spare parts. When a farmer starts to work, it’s usually against the weather! If he stops, he can fix it himself and keep going. But if he needs a lot of parts, he stops. We are exporting to Ireland at the moment; we are doing complete packers and three loads. But Ukraine is our biggest market,” the manufacturer said.

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For example, now he has designed a plant for processing and packaging potatoes for a customer. And he says he can do anything here.

He is not afraid of the proximity to Belarus, believes in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and says that Ukrainians should believe more in themselves.

“I believe they can protect it here, but they need more help from the West and America. If they get it, they can do it. I see big potential in Ukraine, but Ukraine has to focus on believing in itself. Because Ukraine has a lot of good farmers and growers. Yes, we need hundreds of potato machines. That’s knowledge, it’s not a problem,” Carpenter said.

But the Irishman is not the only one developing production here. Slavutych’s industrial zone has also become a haven for those who have moved from war-torn Donbas, like Maria Bubnova and her family.

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They had a canned food business in Mariupol and managed to leave the city under Russian bombing. The Russians destroyed not only their home but also their factory.

“Everything is split; they don’t know how to work with the equipment, the Russians, and the people with them. Everything is destroyed there,” Bubnova said.

But in Slavutych, they started a new life. With grant funds, they revived production and now specialize in canned soups, including cheese, cream, vegetable soup, and the famous Ukrainian borsht.

“There is a line completely for vegetables – cleaning, slicing is underway. These two cauldrons are where meat is cooked to make broth. Then the meat is taken out, separated from the bones, and sliced. All this beauty is then dosed into each bag, loaded, filled with broth, and sealed. After that we sterilize it,” she claimed.

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It all works like this – vegetables are cut and mixed, and meat is cooked separately. Then the meat is chopped, divided into portions, and fed into a mixer, where it is mixed with vegetables. In the end, all this then fills packages made on special equipment, which is also manufactured in Ukraine.

“It is automatic carousel-type equipment. Each package is taken with a conveyor, opened, then vegetables get there, then filled with broth, meat is added, and sealed. Then on the scales, we check that there are 400 grams,” Bubnova said.

Currently, a team of more than 10 people produces thousands of such packages. They are ordered  by ordinary Ukrainians because long-term storage products are relevant during blackouts. Bubnova says she decided to move to Slavutych because the city is comfortable to live in and was the only place offering the necessary conditions for business. So now her whole family lives here.

“We asked to find a city in Ukraine with the following characteristics – 1.5 megawatts of electricity connection, water, and so on. The only city that offered us such conditions is Slavutych. They led us by the hand – maybe this room, maybe that,” Bubnova said.

Slavutych mayor Yuri Fomichev says it’s not just a whim; it’s a way to save the city and its population from migration. Attracting businesses and creating new jobs is bearing fruit.

“We are trying to demonstrate our openness, create the most favorable conditions, and minimally bureaucratize all processes. Slavutych is almost the only city where you can get permission for advertising and earthworks online. We are reducing procedures and bureaucracy. We have some premises ready to rent out, and we have free space we are ready to provide. Do you run out of electricity? Let’s think of something, we’ll extend the networks to you, otherwise, we won’t survive,” Fomichev said.

Now the end of the war is far away. But our heroes are full of enthusiasm and willingness to develop further.

“We have been living here since last August. My mother, my husband’s mother, my sister, the whole family. No, it’s not scary; I believe in the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” Bubnova said.

“They need to give local businesses tax relief, like most countries did to generate the economy. The economy needs a kick-start,” Carpenter said.

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