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Early in the morning on July 31, a leading figure in Ukraine’s agribusiness, tycoon Oleksiy Vadaturskyi, and his wife Raisa Vadaturska were killed by a Russian strike that hit their home in the southern city of Mykolaiv.
The 74-year-old businessman was the founder of Nibulon, one of Ukraine’s largest agricultural holdings, specializing in the production and export of a variety of products, including grain, wheat, and corn.
In 2021, Vadaturskyi’s net worth was $430 million, according to Forbes Ukraine.
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky's Office, said Russia had deliberately targeted the businessman.
“In my opinion, the death of Oleksiy Vadaturskyi was not an accident, but a thought-out deliberate murder,” he said.
According to Podolyak, the Russian missile struck the bedroom of Vadaturskyi’s house, indicating that the attack was a premeditated assassination.
Videos from the scene show the strike hit precisely the wing where the couple’s bedroom was. Their house was the only building in the neighborhood hit by a Russian rocket.
“Vadaturskyi was clearly a target,” Podolyak said.
The couple was survived by their son, former lawmaker Andrii Vadaturskyi.
Vadaturskyi was a well-established Ukrainian businessman, with Nibulon, founded in 1991, being one of the largest companies in Ukraine.
Nibulon holds an estimated 80,000 hectares, ranked first in terms of farmed land.
After Russia occupied the southern regional capital Kherson, they ransacked Nibulon's granaries in the southern region, hit the company's tug, and fired at its grain elevators.
It was a massive setback for the company built by Vadaturskyi, which set a record in 2021 by shipping more than 5 million tonnes of agricultural products to 38 countries.
The businessman built Nibulon around the Dnipro River, with the company known for using Ukrainian waterways to transport its products.
Vadaturskyi shaped the infrastructure of the Dnipro, reviving river shipments after years of decline.
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union river transportation remained at a standstill for decades – there was no dredging, the locks were rarely repaired, and the fleet sailed abroad or was cut into scrap metal.
In the span of ten years, Nibulon increased river transportation fivefold, from less than 1 million tonnes in 2011 to 3.8 million in 2021.
Nibulon has by far the largest fleet in Ukraine, which includes 82 barges, tugboats, and floating cranes. The company built 27 transshipment terminals, where more than 2 million tonnes of grain can be stored.
Among them, 13 terminals are located on the Dnipro and Southern Buh rivers.
Vadaturskyi’s most iconic idea remained the transportation of massive amounts of watermelons in boats from the southern Kherson region to Kyiv.
In August 2017, a barge with 250 tonnes of watermelons traveled 750 kilometers to Pereyaslav, near Kyiv, with trucks later delivering the cargo to the capital's supermarkets.
The barge, the first of many, became an iconic moment associated with summer among Ukrainians.
In his speech after the attack, Mykolaiv Mayor Oleksandr Sienkevych praised Vadaturskyi as a Hero of Ukraine, an official award he received in 2007 for his role in the development of agriculture, a cornerstone of the country’s economy.
“For Mykolaiv, Oleksiy was not just a hero, but a real guardian angel who always provided a shoulder - no matter what difficulties our city faced,” Sienkevych said.
“He restored faith in the people of Mykolaiv that we can once again become the shipbuilding capital of Ukraine.”
Despite being over the conscription age, thus being allowed to leave the country, Vadaturskyi decided to stay in his hometown of Mykolaiv, defying Russia’s constant shelling of the southern city located only 30 kilometers from the front line.
Ministry of Infrastructure Alexander Kubrakov said Vadaturskyi’s death was a “colossal loss” for Ukraine. “I'm sure we don't even fully grasp the scale,” he said.
A key figure in Ukraine’s agriculture, Vadaturskyi’s death is seen as another one of the Kremlin's attempt to tighten its grip on the country’s grain.
Hanna Zamazeyeva, head of the Mykolaiv Oblast Council, said she believes that the killing was linked to the fact that Vadaturskyi took part in the ongoing talks to lift the Russian blockade and allow Ukraine to ship its grain through its Black Sea ports.
"I believe that this is a planned assassination, linked to the food crisis that Russia is trying to create around the world," Zamazeyeva said.
Russia has blocked Ukrainian agricultural exports, burned fields, and stolen its grain.
As a result of the war, Ukraine's grain harvest in 2022 is set to be around half of the 2021 total of 107 million tonnes.
On July 22, Kyiv and Moscow signed an UN-backed deal in Istanbul that envisioned safe passage of Ukrainian grain from three ports in Odesa Oblast. The deal was jeopardized by a Russian attack on the Odesa port the following day.
President Volodymyr Zelensky said on July 31 that Ukraine’s primary goal is to prevent a global food crisis caused by the Russian invasion.
According to Turkish authorities, the first ship carrying grain was expected to leave Odesa on Aug. 1.