How two friends united by war turned Ukrainian shrimp from myth to reality.

Editor’s Note

A Donbas war veteran and a civil volunteer to Ukraine’s defensive efforts in Donbas have pursued a most hopeless venture — cultivating huge freshwater shrimp in Ukraine. Professors said their dream was hopeless: only Malaysia and Indonesia have the right conditions for shrimp to reproduce. The two friends proved them wrong: their small enterprise plans to reach 21 tons of output and is now delivering shrimp to Kyiv restaurants.

A company in Uzyn, a town in Ukraine’s northern Kyiv Oblast has been growing one of the largest freshwater shrimps called Macrobrachium Rosenbergii for over a year in industrial volumes. Last year, they sold 16 tons, and this year they plan to reach 21 tons of output. Of course, against all Ukrainian imports, these are modest figures. Last year, Ukraine imported 25,000 tons of frozen shrimp. Nevertheless, the Uzyn entrepreneurs have big plans. Their products are in demand both abroad and in Ukraine.

The company was founded by comrades from different Ukrainian cities. One of them is a , the other is a civil volunteer. The war in Ukraine’s east brought them together.

Oleksandr Riaboshlyk of Kaniv, Cherkasy Oblast, served in the anti-terrorist operation zone for six years starting from April 2014. He was wounded twice, first at the Donetsk Airport then near the village of Krymske, Luhansk Oblast. Oleksiy Slepniov was an antiquary before the war. With the beginning of the ATO, he started bringing aid to the Ukrainian soldiers at the front.

Just two years ago, they were called eccentrics and their business was seen as hopeless. It was ostensibly technically impossible to grow and breed freshwater shrimp in Ukraine; only the natural conditions of Malaysia and Indonesia would seemingly be favorable for such prawns.

“These select shrimp are supplied to markets and restaurants in Odesa, Kharkiv, Kyiv. It is four months old. It weighs 25 grams. We sell them this way to complete four crop cycles a year. In the warm season, they grow faster,” says co-founder of LLC Ukrainska Krevetka (“Ukrainian Shrimp”) Oleksiy Slepniov showing the freshwater shrimps grown on his own farm. Photo: Myroslava Stankevych / BBC News Ukraine

Ukrainian shrimp

Such an enterprise is the only one in Ukraine, says Oleksiy Slepniov . It is engaged in the year-round industrial cultivation and breeding of freshwater Rosenberg shrimp. Prior to that, Oleksiy studied how shrimp farms get arranged and operated in Malaysia and other countries. For a year and a half, he, together with his friends, implemented the technologies he brought home.

Editor’s Note

According to Agroportal, Mr. Slepniov bought his first batch of shrimp abroad and switched his clutch of shrimp to Ukrainian food such as nettles, lettuce and spinach, pumpkins, mushrooms, apples, cucumbers, zucchini, snails, seaweed, worms, fish, cereals, and so on.

Oleksiy Slepniov, co-founder of the first Ukrainian shrimp farm. Photo: Myroslava Stankevych / BBC News Ukraine

Now they’ve got seven shrimp greenhouses, which are indoor pools for tens of cubic meters of water. The greenhouses are spread across facilities of their enterprise in several Ukrainian cities. The company also sells shrimp fry to owners of multiple smaller farms.

“We teach people so that everyone would grow shrimp successfully. It may stop growing only due to human negligence. You should live and breathe it, you should love this business. I come to the farm at six in the morning and go home late at night, after 1 A.M.” says Oleksiy Slepniov.

Malaysia and Indonesia in a Ukrainian backyard

Another co-founder of Ukrainian Shrimp LLC, an ATO hero from Kaniv, Cherkasy Oblast, Oleksandr Riaboshlyk spent the compensation for his battle wounds for kick-starting his business. He says that the hardest thing was to raise the offspring of the shrimp, or fry. It failed to work out right away, “At first I didn’t get many fry, but I achieved the result,” Riaboshlyk recalls the beginning of his business.

He explained that it is difficult to create natural conditions for breeding offspring. The salinity of water and its temperature is important. Their shrimp is of the freshwater variety, but after fertilization, its fry needs 40 days of living in salty oceanic water, where the eggs grow to the nauplii, fry. Water should be prepared with oceanic salt.

Oleksandr Riaboshlyk, co-founder of Ukrainian Shrimp LLC. Photo: Myroslava Stankevych / BBC News Ukraine

There were earlier attempts in Ukraine to grow Rosenberg shrimp in the 80s, in Crimea. But those failed as they weren’t able to breed fry industrially. At that time there were no appropriate technologies, devices, or salt supplies. That project was shut down.

“Even the professors told us that all we were doing would be in vain. Malaysia and Indonesia would be needed for this. Well, now Malaysia and Indonesia are right here in our back yard,” says Oleksandr.

His investment paid off a long time ago now, and last year Mr. Riaboshlyk started a rehabilitation program for ATO participants. He presented 50 baby shrimp free of charge to each willing veteran of the war.

“We teach them for free and even make them work. The main thing is to get rid the indifference that ‘it will grow anyway.’ For example, boxes in the pools should be rearranged several times a day so that shrimp do not settle, but were in the move to gain weight better. The food should be given in doses so that it wouldn’t get rot. Willy-nilly, you go and do it. Using others is only good for pulling your chestnuts out of the fire,” says Oleksandr.

Now, his brothers-in-arms are creating their own small farms. They grow shrimp in open water and indoor pools, which depends on their financial capabilities. And one even made two dugouts as in the summer the shrimp can live in open water.

For the winter season, people re-purpose various buildings as shrimp greenhousesб such as basements and garages. Some build special shops. There was a case when people bought an old school building to reproduce there the conditions in which the shrimp can go through their entire growing cycle. Others bought an abandoned pig farm and converted it to their shrimp farm.

Most can’t afford the industrial scale of production so far, but they have prospects. At the instigation of Oleksiy and his colleagues, there are now such small enterprises in every province of Ukraine. He himself also started with only 100 juvenile shrimp he brought from abroad.

“We grow ourselves everything they feed on”

In summer, growing shrimp requires a minimum of costs. They can live in ordinary lakes, dugouts, just like, say, crucian carp. During its whole life cycle of three to four months, a shrimp eats a kilogram and a half of food.

Like their Malaysian and Indonesian siblings, Ukrainian shrimp have a mixed protein-vegetable diet. The nutrition was adapted to Ukrainian realities introducing mushrooms, shellfish, nettles, lettuce, spinach, zucchini, cucumbers.

“We grow ourselves everything they feed on, even earthworms. We only buy small fish,” says Oleksiy Slepniov.

Shrimp is a nocturnal animal that isn’t active during the daytime. You feed it in the evening starting from 6 p.m. and ending at 1 a.m.

“We feed them in portions 6-8 times. The main thing is to learn how to do it right. You can’t pour all food like for sturgeon, trout, like for pigs or chickens. Shrimp eat everything fresh, alive, and natural,” explains Oleksiy.

Photo: Myroslava Stankevych / BBC News Ukraine

One person can handle one average farm with 200 cubic meters. The company’s farms are equipped with a water filtration system and video surveillance. Chemical water analysis is mandatory every morning.

From the farms of Slepniov and his colleagues, the prawns get are sold alive to the kitchens of restaurants. The price per kilogram starts from 1,500 hryvnias ($56).

The company sells its shrimp to Ukrainian restaurants and has established sales to Turkey. In the near future, they plan to sell Ukrainian shrimp to Georgia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and the European Union.

Exports, imports, plans

“Our industry doesn’t get support from anyone. Everything we do is only by ourselves. In Iran, America, shrimp programs get state funding. 80% of the world’s shrimp are grown industrially, not fished out from the ocean,” complains Oleksiy Slepniov.

He says they don’t need financial support from the state. Yet they encounter problems that can be solved at the legislative level: Ukraine doesn’t have customs clearance forms for the export of shrimp to the European Union. Because there has been no such business here by now.

Photo: Myroslava Stankevych / BBC News Ukraine

Ukraine imports shrimp from different countries. Consumers don’t always know how good their quality is. According to Mr. Slepniov, Ukraine lacks proper control, no tests are made to find out if the shrimp grew on natural or artificial feeds.

Shrimp are supplied frozen to Ukrainian stores mainly from India, Ecuador, Thailand, and China. Ukrainian state standards provide for testing the norms of its taste and smell after thawing, while the European Union does not allow the sale of artificially grown shrimp. But it cannot be determined visually, only through lab tests.

The company plans to develop and sell ready-made farms as turnkey systems with configured processes. But for now, the company is increasing its output.

Further reading:

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