Six working at Hunterton Farm at Stoner Creek on N. Middletown Road –
PAT CONLEY Citizen staff
Yana Dyikareza doesn’t know The Kentucky Wildcats lost a thriller last Saturday at Arkansas. And she doesn’t care.
Her mind is 5,000+ miles away, back in her native Ukraine.
Yana arrived in Bourbon County just last month, only two weeks or so before Russia invaded Ukraine. She is one of six young Ukrainians working during foaling season at Hunterton Farm on North Middletown Road.
The Citizen spoke with Yana last Thursday night, while she was working the late shift on foal watch. It was a 26 degrees F evening, and the normally personable 30-something was doing her best to keep her composure under unimaginable stress.
“I was five hours trying to call my parents today,” she explained. “Finally my mother called me. They have been blocking calls out of the country.” Yana’s parents live in Melitopol (pop. 150,000), in southeastern Ukraine. “They are hearing shooting, shooting, shooting, all day,” Yana said.
Yana knows people have been desperately trying to leave Ukraine, which has nearly 44,000,000 people (about 11 Kentuckys) across an area about the size of Texas. For example, some Ukrainians have reportedly left for Poland—traveling on foot, for 18 hours or more. One of Yana’s young colleagues, Khrystyna, arrived at Hunterton Farm last Tuesday, only two days before the first Russians attacks. Another, Kostyatin, was stuck overseas, unable to get his visa processed in time.
Yana says her parents are reluctant to leave. “Maybe they will have nothing left if they leave,” she said. Besides, her father is 59 years old, and the Ukrainian government wants able-bodied males up to 60 to remain, she explained.
“We hoped other countries would come and help us,” Yana said. “But it did not happen. I just hope my parents will be alive”.
Yana loves living and working in Bourbon County. She was among 15 Ukrainians working at Hunterton last year. Her plan is to remain on the farm until December, through foaling season and the fall sales. But she doesn’t know when or if she can return to her home in Kyiv, some 450 miles from her parents. “I don’t know if I will have a home, a family or if there will be a Ukraine,” she said. “Nobody knows what happens next. We are just trying to save Ukraine for our people, our kids. We just want to be left alone”.
Yana was six years old when Ukraine gained its independence from the U.S.S.R. But she has vivid memories of life under Soviet rule. “There was no money. You are eating only borscht (a sour soup made primarily with beetroots) every day. There was no money even for bread”.
Yana knows Americans care about the plight of the Ukrainian people. “Please keep praying for Ukraine,” she asks.
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THE UNITED NATIONS OF HUNTERTON FARM
Steve Stewart sometimes wonders, albeit tongue-in-cheek, if there should be a Statue of Liberty replica at the front gates of Hunterton Farm at Stoner Creek. That’s because the historic farm (formerly known as Stoner Creek Stud) since 1996 has employed workers from Australia, Bolivia, Canada, Denmark, England, Estonia, Finland, France, Holland, Guatemala, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia, Sweden and most recently, Ukraine.
Stewart, who with wife Cindy owns and operates the Hunterton Farm standardbred breeding business on North Middletown Road, met with The Citizen last week to explain what brought his most recent internationals–six Ukrainians– to Bourbon County.
It really all started years ago with Margareta Wallenious-Kleberg of Sweden. She’s the one who recruited Steve and Cindy to lease the scenic, 700-acre standardbred farm–developed originally as a thoroughbred operation by the rent-a-car mogul John D. Hertz–when she took ownership in 1996. So it was only natural that a Scandinavian connection evolved, with mainly young women from Finland and a few from Sweden and other nearby countries coming to work. A few ended up pursuing U.S. citizenship and staying in Kentucky permanently.
Over the years the Stewarts have depended on the H-2A temporary, agricultural visa program to supplement their local workforce. Under the program, foreign workers can come to the U.S. for ten months, before returning to their home countries for at least two months. This schedule works perfectly on a horse farm, with foaling season starting in February and the sales season wrapped up by December.
Stewart says his local workforce, from Bourbon, Nicholas and surrounding counties, enjoys the “cultural flavor” of working with mainly younger people from a variety of nations. He admits it’s not always easy attracting and retaining a local work force, especially given the nature of horse farm work which can be physically demanding, and which often requires long hours, nights and weekends, in all types of weather.
Things changed in 2020 during the federal response to COVID-19. “The U.S. government said no one from European Union countries was allowed in,” Stewart remembers. “Not even Margareta could come here,” he added. “But our main contact in Finland had a connection with a veterinarian in Ukraine,” Steve explained. “And we—and everybody else—now know Ukraine is not part of the E.U., or NATO.”
The first 15 Ukrainians arrived in July of 2020, in time to prep horses for the fall sales. According to Stewart, many of the countries represented over the years at
Hunterton Farm have a strong standardbred racing history. So most of the young people who’ve come to Hunterton have hands-on experience with horses. Those that don’t are typically hard workers, and willing to learn.
One of the H-2A visa requirements is that housing be provided. All the Ukrainians and several Finns live on the farm.
All of the Ukrainians currently working at Hunterton were here last year, Stewart said. “They love it here,” he believes. “We have a beautiful farm, which they appreciate, and we’re in a great neighborhood,” Stewart chuckles. “Which includes Claiborne Farm, Hinkle Farms and Stonerside Farm. And The City of Paris. Mr. Hertz was able to persuade city officials to extend city water and electricity to us, way back when,” Steve added.
“One of our young Ukrainians, when asked what’s different about Ukraine and Kentucky, said ‘everything’,” Stewart laughed. “He was talking about cultural differences, but above all he was talking about economic opportunity, I think”. Another Ukrainian, Olha, has worked at Hunterton for three years in a row. “She loves the freedom of travel here,” Stewart said. “She’s already knocked Disneyworld, California and Colorado off her bucket list.”
Olha’s grandmother lives very near the Russian border. Stewart says he can only imagine the anxiety his Ukrainian employees are feeling right now. “These aren’t people from Afghanistan or Syria or someplace else that probably for some of us might as well be the moon,” Stewart feels. “These people—the Ukrainians—we’re seeing on TV look like us, dress like us, live in cities like us. We’re certainly heartbroken for all of them,” Stewart added. “Understandably, this (the Russian invasion) is happening right here, right now, and they’re trying to process it as best they can. Most are trying to stay cool, calm and collected. But it’s obviously extremely tough”.
Stewart said the Ukrainians know and appreciate how much the American public supports Ukrainian independence. When asked, he said he believes cards and letters of support would be warmly welcomed by his young Ukrainian crew: Danylo, Heidi, Hlib, Khrystyna, Olha and Yana. Such messages can be mailed to: “Team Ukraine”, Hunterton Farm at Stoner Creek, 500 N. Middletown Road, Paris KY 40361.