Seed World

Survival – Ordeals of an Agricultural University in Ukraine: Part 2

Read Part 1 Here

Editor’s note:

Our goal of European Seed — Seed World’s sister publication — is to bring our readers, the most relevant news, insight, and perspective from across the global seed industry. Two months ago, our European Seed editorial director, Marcel Bruins, heard Dr. Serhii Kiurchev, doctor of technical sciences, professor, and rector of the Dmytro Motornyi Tavria State Agrotechnological University (TSATU) University in Melitopol, Ukraine, speak in a webinar series. His personal account of trying to continue his research programs and teaching despite war gave a unique face and perspective to the terrible situation unfolding in Ukraine. Since Ukraine is such a critical link in the global food supply system, and since educating tomorrow’s scientists is so vital to agricultural success and succession, Marcel reached out to Dr. Kiurchev to ask if he’d write an account of his experiences for our magazine. The following is that account, written despite frequent power outages and delivered to us despite near constant shelling.

Our Students

After the shelling between February 24-28, 2022, TSATU students who lived in the dormitories found themselves in a very difficult situation. They had no food because the shops had been looted. The students had no cash to buy food, as banks were closed since the first day of the war. Most of the students were on internships at companies in different cities of Ukraine, cut off from their families. Since May 27, 2022, all the dormitories were seized by the occupiers. All the students’ personal belongings were destroyed, and the military personnel moved in into students’ rooms.

Currently, a huge community of students and alumni of the university are fighting the aggressor in the hottest spots of the country or helping to solve issues on the front line and volunteering. In their turn, all of them make an invaluable contribution to the preservation and existence of the Ukrainian nation.

We have lost some of our heroes. Two students were killed in a bombing of TSATU. Dmytro Mikulin, a graduate of TSATU, died in the battles near Bakhmut in March 2023. We will always remember those who fought for the independence of our country and gave their lives for it.

Faculty and Staff

The teachers of TSATU spent the first weeks of the war in basements of the university. TSATU opened its bomb shelters to all residents of Melitopol. At that time, grocery stores, pharmacies and ATMs were looted. Residential buildings in the city were without heating for three days at temperatures of -19.4¬∞C. After the shelling, all teachers, and the student community, together with other citizens, participated in dangerous rallies against the occupation. 

Between April and September 2022, the teachers made incredible efforts at filtration posts to get out of the occupied region: there were searches of their belongings, interrogations, checks of phones and laptops. Some of them spent the nights in an open field for five days, waiting for their turn to leave at the filtration points. Their homes have been illegally nationalized and now occupiers and collaborators live in them. Currently, complete lawlessness and looting continues in the city.

Dmytro Motornyi Tavria State Agrotechnological University (TSATU) prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine


The university’s scientific material base has been completely seized. We have lost 1,800 hectares of fields and 63 hectares of orchards where elite cherry varieties were grown. Research equipment and machinery from 12 laboratories were stolen, including from our quality [control], food production, mushroom and quail cultivation, and wine laboratories, as well as our educational laboratory-cafe, and our irrigation system. Digital equipment that was used during the field experiments (drones, video cameras, a database of research results for the last five years) was also stolen.

I would like to emphasize that the occupiers also stole 2.5 thousand tons of the grain crop and 150 tons of the elite cherry crop. The money [generated] from selling this harvest would have been put back into developing our material base of the university. All these funds were used for the development and needs of the university, and, unfortunately, are currently in the hands of the occupiers.

Our Research Future

Based on the experience of the Kherson State Agrarian and Economic University, we [expect] that during the occupation all the property of TSATU in Melitopol will be stolen. We are in dire need of help recreating scientific labs. We are ready to open new branches of scientific departments of other universities to conduct joint scientific research. We need assistance from international foundations and partner universities for the supply of laboratory equipment and computer hardware. We are in dire need of the renewal of seeds, grains, fertilizers, plant care products and reagents for experiments. We have already experienced the stealing of agricultural machinery from farms in Melitopol, so we are also not sure that the agricultural machinery of TSATU will remain in full stock after the occupation. 

Our 2022 harvest was stolen, and we lost the opportunity to plant for the 2023 harvest. We need to replenish our seed stock of wheat, barley, and corn varieties. We are not sure about the safety of our irrigation systems, machinery and spare parts or the repair shops.

If there is any possibility to support us and provide us with agricultural machinery, we will be extremely grateful. We understand that we will definitely win and return, so there will be a need to cultivate the land of our university’s farms. But the question arises: how to do it, and what will remain after the occupiers are gone?

Software and Hardware

During the occupation, the issue of the material and technical base of the educational process became critical. Therefore, from February 24 to May 27, 2022, we organized night shifts of employees in educational buildings to prevent looting and theft of machinery and equipment. 

After the occupation of TSATU, the occupiers stole 18 multimedia white boards, 50 projectors, 1,100 personal computers, 50 printers and scanners, and two drones. The seizure of classrooms with personal computers resulted in the loss of software. Our teachers wanted to keep part of the material base and managed to take some of it out of the University at the time of the occupation. However, most of the computers were taken to the military commandant’s office in Melitopol. It was dangerous for the teachers to stay in the city. Some of the teachers’ personal possessions were lost during house searches in Melitopol and seized during filtration processes.

With support, the university purchased four powerful servers, 110 laptops (to ensure remote work of university staff and teachers); 13 printers and multimedia projectors (for interactive events). 


From the very first days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the banking system of Ukraine ceased to operate in the occupied territories. Only a few tellers of three banks were open, which at that time served more than 100,000 people. People had to stand in queues for 3-4 days to get cash from banks and buy medicine from pharmacies. At the same time, the university’s accounts were frozen, making any financial transactions impossible. In the summer, we lost part of the income from the stolen crop. TSATU was practically left without financial resources to pay salaries and scholarships to students.

The year 2022 was extremely difficult for our university, as it brought us a lot of grief, pain, sorrow, and challenges that we could not even imagine until now. We solved many financial problems to keep the staff and students at the university. But the issue of restoring the university remains very important for us. We plan to create a financial fund for TSATU alumni. We are also open to cooperation with international funds because we really need help. Today, our main task is to maintain our positions and return to Melitopol. However, in the future TSATU should become a base for the revival of the agricultural sector of Southern Ukraine through the training of modern specialists and innovative research in agriculture and the food industry. A year of war has passed. TSATU lives, works, and maintains its educational front.

This was a year of hardening, courage, human dignity, and a year of struggle for the Statehood! The main result of a year of the war — Ukraine survived! TSATU survived! We all survived! We will, of course, win, return to our native Melitopol and continue to rebuild and develop our university. This is our dream and our goal.

Glory to Ukraine!