Contemporary Ukrainian Tractor Industry Tells another Story

In the novel, “A Short History of Ukrainian Tractors,” readers may be familiar with the travails of an elderly pensioner desperate to write his treatise on the fallen state of the Ukrainian tractor industry while doing verbal battle with a Ukrainian émigré who wants his hand in marriage in exchange for a visa, but there is another story to tell about this indispensable piece of farm equipment.

The tractor – a symbol of industry and food, progress and farming worldwide – can trace at least part of its heritage back to Ukraine. Soviet Russia managed to squander the credit for this advance in the beginning. Some historians suggest the introduction of the tractor hastened the Soviet collectivization policy, a tragic precursor to one of the worst manufactured famines in history. Though only about 1,000 tractors operated in 1924 soon after the Revolution, ten years later, the number exploded to over 200,000. Tractors some argue were not Soviet made, however, and were constructed by American manufacturers or were built using American designs.

An agrarian nation, the city of Kharkiv released it first tractor from the assembly line in 1931. A microcosm of the Soviet era of agricultural control, Kharkiv’s industry suffered under the subsequent German invasion of Ukraine. Over 500 industrial companies including the local tractor plant was destroyed by the Nazis during their war. Yet, the Kharkiv tractor industry managed to rebound after the war producing its one-millionth tractor in 1967. By 1980, Kharkiv’s tractor industry was booming with locally made machines paving the way to the South Pole. Today, the tractor plant is outfitting its machines with motors from Sweden and Germany and is still making sales internationally.

The novel, A Short History of Ukrainian Tractors, has shined a spotlight in part on this well-established industry in Ukraine. Travellers with an interest in agricultural history may not only find this book interesting but the true history of Ukraine’s success in managing changes to its agrarian economy compelling as well.