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Ivan Volodymyrovych, 27, a farm manager of an agricultural company, stands near an unexploded rocket in Kyiv oblast on April 4 .ANTON SKYBA/The Globe and Mail

Ivan Volodymyrovych has only had a few nights of quiet sleep since Russian forces fled, taking with them the artillery and rocket launchers that had for weeks brought the thunder of war to this rural area east of Kyiv, in a failed attempt by invading soldiers to batter their way into the capital.

But here, like elsewhere, the sudden calm has only brought new light to the toll of a Russian invasion that has left behind tortured bodies and deadly fields. Soon after the Russian forces left, a Ukrainian ordnance team identified 17 munitions in a single square kilometre of fields operated by company Agro-Region, where Mr. Volodymyrovych works as a farm manager.

The ordnance experts cleared away most of the munitions on the Agro-Region lands, allowing tractors to quickly get to work. A week ago, the idea of sowing crops here seemed laughable, with a raging conflict that has killed many thousands and raised anxieties about looming food shortages. The swift tilling and fertilization of fields east of Kyiv is a testament to the strength of Ukraine’s continued resolve, even as the Russian retreat has revealed new atrocities – in particular against civilians living in western suburbs of Kyiv, where dead women have been found naked and men have been discovered with hands tied and heads shot from the back.

On Monday, U.S. President Joe Biden called Russia’s Vladimir Putin “a war criminal,” pledging to collect evidence for a trial as the U.S. continues to arm Ukraine. French President Emmanuel Macron said the gruesome images emerging from around Kyiv, including the town of Bucha, showed “very clear signs of war crimes.” Lithuania said it would expel the Russian ambassador and bring home its envoy to Moscow. Germany expelled 40 Russian diplomats, with Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock saying what took place in Bucha revealed the “unbelievable brutality of the Russian leadership and those who follow its propaganda.”

Canada pledged new sanctions against 10 people it called close associates of the Russian and Belarusian regimes for facilitating and enabling the violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty. Ottawa did not name the people.

Ukraine, however, called for even more punitive international action against Russia, with Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba saying, “half measures are not enough any more.”

The country has sought to use the horrors on display around Kyiv to prompt action. Officials on Monday toured foreign journalists through Motyzhyn, a village southwest of Bucha, where the mayor lay partly buried in a pit beside her husband and son.

Russia has denied any responsibility for civilian deaths, asserting against evidence to the contrary that the corpses were staged on streets.

President Volodymyr Zelensky visited Bucha on Monday to see for himself.

“It’s important to show all over the world what the Russian Federation and what the Russian army did here,” he said, calling it “just unimaginable.”

“Children were killed, women were raped,” he said, pledging to hold Russia “to account for the acts they perpetrated.”

Ukraine’s Defence Minister, meanwhile, warned of worse to come, pointing to movements of Russian troops and weapons that suggested preparation for a new attempt to conquer Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city. Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko cautioned against an immediate return to the capital, saying much unexploded ordnance has yet to be cleared and further missile strikes remain a possibility.

How to remove unexploded munitions has become one of the central questions for Ukrainian farmers.

After being deactivated by an ordnance disposal team, Ukrainian farmers use a tractor to lift the remains of a Russian missile out of the ground on March 30. Ukraine's State Emergency Service says it's impossible to estimate how many leftover munitions remain to be defused.

The Globe and Mail

After Russian soldiers abandoned the positions they had used to fire rockets and shells on the lands Mr. Volodymyrovych manages, he called in an ordnance disposal team. It used drones and metal-detecting equipment to identify unexploded munitions, including a 500-kilogram bomb. Once the experts deactivated the rockets, Mr. Volodymyrovych’s men used farm equipment to yank them out by their tails.

“The tractor was on the field minutes later,” said Mr. Volodymyrovych, who The Globe and Mail is identifying by his patronymic because he fears a Russian return and revenge. While the tractor worked, battle smoke was still curling from the horizon as the Ukrainian army gave chase to fleeing Russian forces. Five or 10 days later and it would have been too late to plant crops such as sunflowers.

“We were very fortunate that our armed forces booted out the enemy, giving us a chance to proceed with these fields,” said Mr. Volodymyrovych, wearing a military vest and carrying a rifle. Like other farmers here, he belongs to a local Territorial Defence Forces militia group.

But three unexploded missiles remain on Agro-Region fields, wedged deep in the earth, their location marked with empty water bottles. They were left behind when the demining crew was called away to more urgent urban needs in Bucha and other satellite cities on the west of Kyiv.

Ukraine said its State Emergency Service has roughly 500 specialists trained to defuse leftover munitions. But it is impossible to estimate how many munitions remain, it said in a statement Monday.

And Agro-Region’s success in resuming work sheds light on the immensity of the effort that confronts Ukraine even in places freed from fighting. It took the demining crew six hours to check 136 hectares, Mr. Volodymyrovych said. Agro-Region alone farms 12,000 hectares in the area. Most of that land was not affected by the fighting, but Mr. Volodymyrovych pointed to a line of trees marking the edge of an area that until recently was occupied by Russia. It is a great mass of land extending to the borders of Russia and Belarus. Landmines could be hidden anywhere, terrifying farmers.

“There is a risk that the planting season will not start on any of the territory that was occupied,” Mr. Volodymyrovych said.

Perhaps worse are the naval mines that have been detected in the Black Sea. Their presence has helped to ensure shipping cannot resume at ports vital to Ukraine’s agricultural exports, which supply large percentages of the world’s wheat, corn and sunflower oil needs. Millions of tonnes of the 2021 harvest remain in warehouses and granaries, unable to find a way out (efforts to export by train have proved slow and expensive).

Even if farmers can plant this year, they have little assurance that they will be able to sell what they reap.

“We will sow as much as possible, hoping that the world will get united and finally push Russia to unblock the exports,” said Agro-Region chief executive officer Kateryna Rybachenko. “Otherwise, the world will face many more problems, like food shortages when inflation is at record highs.”

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