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"From Reconnaissance Man to Farmer"

May 29, 2017 / "The Army of Ukraine" magazine

In order to embody ideas in the field of permaculture agriculture, he seriously embarked on studies. He studied the experience of other enthusiasts, attended workshops given by Jennifer Lauruol - a well-known Scottish designer of permaculture landscapes. At a later stage, he heard about classes that would be held in the business incubator "New Countdown" for ATO veterans. The prospective farmer planned every detail of his project so thoroughly and presented it with an air of such confidence that - based on the results of the competition – he received cash assistance for the development of his business.

Civic activity, the upbringing of children, development of his permaculture farm, construction of housing for ATO participants - this is only part of the tight schedule of the former sniper and reconnaissance man, currently private entrepreneur and public figure Mykola Poltorak. His story inspires many of those who have returned from the front to find a pursuit and focus on it.

When the Russian-Ukrainian war began Mykola voluntarily went to the front, although as a father of four he could have chosen not to do so. In May 2014, he served as a sniper in the Odessa battalion of territorial defense. The unit fulfilled tasks on the border with the unrecognized Transnistria. But shortly after the Ilovaysk events, the personnel was redeployed to defend Mariupol.

For some time, Mykola served in a separate reconnaissance battalion where he mainly performed tasks specific to this unit. On his own initiative he mapped the positions of the enemy by analyzing the geolocations of videos which had been posted by Russian mercenaries on the Internet. It helped reconnaissance men to navigate in unfamiliar terrain. Often, Mykola and his comrades came close to hostile positions ...

- I gathered information and transferred maps with insights back to headquarters, - he recalls. - I marked paths used by the adversary, deployment sites. On one occasion, they did not believe me that the enemy had equipped a mortar nest in Shyrokyne. It was not until our forces ousted terrorists from the village that the command realized I was right.

In general, being a reconnaissance man proved to be more dangerous than serving in the battalion of territorial defenсe.

- The biggest threat near Pavlopol were the artillery bombardments, - continues the fighter. – We moved around shell craters. We also used them to hide from shells. The tasks became more difficult. There was always the possibility of not only getting trapped under enemy fire but also “feel the heat” from our guys...

During a mission in the summer of 2015 Mykola stepped on a mine and lost his foot. After surgery and a rehabilitation course he had to decide what to do next. He chose entrepreneurship, or rather - agricultural business. Ecological food products and permaculture agriculture interested him ever since his wife had been expecting their first-born. And he developed his own project as soon as he returned from the war.

- Permaculture is a whole philosophy, - explains the farmer. - Its name means the arrangement of agriculture that can regulate itself in harmony with nature.

Therefore, in permaculture agriculture, expenses fall to a minimum. The basis for such a farm is, first of all, competent and functional allocation of space: all components should be placed so as not to harm each other but rather, to promote mutual development.

In order to put his ideas into practice Mykola Poltorak hit the books. He studied the experience of other enthusiasts, attended seminars by Jennifer Lauruol - a well-known Scottish designer of permaculture landscapes. He later learned that classes would be held in the business incubator "New Countdown" for ATO veterans.

- I really needed this training, - says Mykola. - After the course, I realized that the next stage - is my own business. I studied Internet marketing, held presentations ... But most importantly, I was confident that I could easily achieve my goal.

The prospective farmer planned every detail of his project so thoroughly and presented it with an air of such confidence that - based on the results of the competition – he received cash assistance for the development of his business. It was necessary to report on the use of funds within six months. However, the specifics of this business are such, that it would be impossible to meet the deadline. Therefore, the former warrior made use of Internet marketing - he bought a camera with video capability for a decent presentation of his project.

Then, it was necessary to attain land for the future farm.

- Obtaining land in Odesa is a big problem, - explains Mykola. - And I need a land plot sufficient for a house and two hectares for agricultural work. This is not your typical farming. It presupposes cultures with different maturing periods; therefore, permanent care is needed. In the beginning, I had to take land on lease in Kilia district, 230 km from Odesa. Later on, I was able to get the necessary land plot on the peninsula. We plan to organize a settlement for ATO veterans of five people. We will organize "territorial defense" and tourist business: fishing, beekeeping. In short, there are a lot of options.

It took Mykola two months to create a plant compatibility table that could be used on his permaculture farm. Then he developed a zoning plan of the farm and plants. In Ukraine, there is an innovator Vladymyr Rozum. He has come up with “feeding garden-beds”, which are now widely used throughout the world. One needs to dig a V-shaped pit, fill it with everything that plants need, and the "work" begins down there - weeds, worms, microorganisms. Plants are placed closely to each other on all sides. This gives good results.

For example, onions should be planted together with oatmeal root - it scares the onion fly away, so plants do not need to be treated for this pest. In addition, onions grow well next to strawberries, tomatoes and salad. Linden works perfectly with all fruit trees. It is also needed on the farm for brewing tea, and as a source of food for bees.

Mykola speaks about his plans, shows us the map and plant compatibility table. There are alternate rows of grapes and onions, garlic and strawberries are in between. They help each other grow. Grapes, peas and sugar beet grow well together. An excellent solution is to grow mushrooms in the garden. There is a phenomenon called mycorrhiza - symbiotic coexistence of mushrooms with roots of certain plants. The mushrooms cover an area of up to one hundred meters. And if the tree does not have enough moisture, then the mushrooms bring moisture to the roots of the tree.

The farmer plans to keep animals and poultry in the garden, so that they will have space to walk freely. Ducks will be kept near the water. Portable fencing will be provided for poultry, so that it will be possible to change the places of containment. In addition to the above-mentioned livestock, the farmer would like to keep an owl to regulate the number of mice in the vegetable plot.

The variety of cultures that Mykola plans to grow correlates with the list of food products. He calculated that two hectares is enough to provide 16 people with healthy food for a year. So he is going to offer the materials of his project to others. After all, many ATO participants receive land plots and also would not mind setting up a permaculture farm. Moreover, this type of agriculture completely restores nature.

Our hero will receive help from his family to implement the project. The Poltorak’s have two daughters - Katrusia and Natalka. They study at school. Their brother Nestor will start first grade next year. And the youngest Bogdanchik recently turned three.

Previously, the entire family lived in an 18 square meter apartment, of which only 8 was the living space. In order to arrange the space, Mykola invented his own design of folding beds. The girls "fought" every day for the right to be the first to sit down at the desk to do homework. But thanks to the charity fund "For the sake of Odesa" and its head Teimuraz Nishnianidze, the family of the wounded soldier was given an apartment. In the future, Mykola plans to take his children to the countryside, to the farm in the summer, and return to Odesa in the fall before the school year begins.

- I am very lucky to have such a wife, - Mykolay concludes. - She supports me. Most of the plants were planted by Lilia. Our son Nestor likes to keep busy with seeds. He gathers apple seeds, soaks them. So this is already a family business.

The "New Countdown" business training program is designed for demobilized servicemen and it has been operating in Odesa for two years now. It is being created in the framework of the educational project for start-up entrepreneurs -Impact Academy, which is implemented by the Impact Hub Odessa Creative Space Team with the support of “Renaissance” International Foundation, the “Caritas Odesa” Charitable foundation of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and the Odesa Business Association.

Impact Hub Odessa brings together many active businessmen of the region. Many of its graduates received mini-grants for the implementation of projects such as taxis for people with disabilities, a chebureks–house, cultivation of agricultural crops, a rock-climbing wall, kids holiday agency, handmade products, etc.

Yevgeniy SYLKIN