Like any other small business, the Hoffman family reached a point where they needed help. They have a farm in the Lower Rhine with around 150 cows and 650 fattening pigs. They tried their luck through the classifieds online but had not expected much of a response. “Then, in December 2018, Tatjana, from Ukraine, found the farm,” says farmer Hans-Theo Hoffman.
The young woman studied agriculture in Zhytomyr in Ukraine and spent a year as an intern on the farm. She provided support wherever needed, which was a considerable help to the farmers.
That support was particularly welcome to Hoffman, who had suffered a run of difficulties and was also grappling with the latest regulations and the milk price. “When you all work together on something, you gain a lot more than when you work on your own,” he says. You are stronger in terms of physical strength, but also in terms of inner motivation, he adds.
Tatjana left the farm to return to her home country in 2019, though they stayed in touch. Then, in March, she organized for a friend and her mother to flee the war in Ukraine and come to the Hoffmans. The two women came from Bilylivka, 200 kilometers south of Kiev. It took them three days to reach the Lower Rhine.
Both are still on the farm. Hoffmann has a great deal of respect for the women’s inner strength, after having to leave their families, friends and country. “Sophiia and and her mother, Nastasiia, work on the farm,” says the farmer. The 20-year-old now has a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy and hopes to complete her master’s degree in two years. Meanwhile the 44-yearold wants to stay with her daughter until the war ends. She likes being in the countryside and has experience of milking cows in the past. “You can tell she enjoys the work.”
The mood on the farm is much more relaxed thanks to the women’s support, he says. They help with milking and all the many barn chores he would otherwise do on his own.
The three communicate through a translation program on their cell phones. He now feels a lot more positive and optimistic. “I can spend my time ranting about the price of milk,” he says, "but it’s no use, I just have to manage as well as I can.“ If the dairy paid farmers more, he reasons, it would have less to invest, which would in turn have a negative impact on margins and thus on the payout price.
“I try to respond flexibly to the day’s work and to my situation,” he says. That means responding to events as they come up, rescheduling, shifting his priorities – all that is now part of his daily balancing act. Thanks to his Ukrainian staff, all that is working out better than ever.