Planet Money: The Planet Money Indicator: NPR




War economy – you may have heard this expression before. A wartime economy is when a country rearranges its resources to support its armed forces, and a prime example of this that might come to mind is the United States during World War II. It was then that entire industries shifted their production towards the manufacture of aircraft, firearms, ammunition and armor. Well, a version of that is currently happening in Ukraine. Take this school gymnasium in the western city of Chernobyl.

OKSANA PYLYPIV: (non-English language spoken).

MA: This is Oksana Pylypiv. She spoke to NPR through a translator.

PYLYPIV: (Through an interpreter) A few days ago, before the war broke out, it was just a gym for the school children.

MA: But then Oksana and others heard that the Ukrainian forces needed camouflage netting – basically, those netting that you drape over military vehicles to try to conceal them, you know, blend them into the landscape.

PYLYPIV: (Through an interpreter) On the same day, people were informed that they were organizing places like this to help – to create aid and make these nets for the army.

MA: Over 100 volunteers showed up to help assemble these nets by hand.

PYLYPIV: (Through interpreter) So the soldiers come in here, and they grab this stuff right from here. And then they send it where they need it.

MA: Alongside civilian volunteers like Oksana, Ukrainian companies are also getting involved.

This is THE PLANET MONEY INDICATOR. I’m Adrien Ma. And today, this episode is going to sound a little different than what you’re used to, and that’s because we’re featuring dispatches from Ukraine from NPR’s Tim Mak. He has been covering the conflict for weeks. And after the break, Tim will introduce us to two companies that have reoriented their production to support the fight and the need for food.


TIM MAK, BYLINE: We’re here in this kind of manufacturing industrial area of ​​the city.

MA: So NPR’s Tim Mak reported on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. And at one point he stopped at a metal workshop in western Ukraine. Normally, workers here would build agricultural equipment. Today however…

MAK: What they’re doing here is creating spikes – anti-tank devices that will prevent tanks from advancing. So there are these hedgehogs that they create out of railway tracks that they lay out in such a way, weld together in such a way that the tanks won’t be able to keep going. They have these metal plates here that they use as a sort of bulletproof vest. They stick these plates into vests and test them to see whether or not they can stop smaller caliber bullets.


MA: One of the co-owners of this agricultural machinery manufacturer turned weapons manufacturer is called Igor.

IGOR BARCHAN: My name is Igor – Igor Barchan (ph). I come from Ternopil region in Ukraine.

MAK: Were you in kyiv when the invasion started?

BARCHAN: Yeah. At first I was with my family in kyiv. On the first day we came here with our families and to our main office in Ternopil, to our workshop.

MAK: So tell me, what are you doing here?

BARCHAN: Now we make – I don’t have many words – military tanks.

MAK: I can describe it.


MAK: Anti-tank devices, things that will be useful to the military.

BARCHAN: Yeah – because these terms, even for us, are new in Ukraine. I’m not in the industry. We learn this world…

MAK: Yeah.

BARCHAN: …Unfortunately.

MAK: Yeah.


MA: Igor told Tim that before the war his main job was building combine harvesters – you know, those big machines that are used to harvest crops like wheat.

MAK: As soon as the war started, everything changed.

BARCHAN: Well, yes – very quickly.

MAK: Were you ordered to do this or did you volunteer to modify the production?

Barchan: No, no, no. We only do volunteer work. So we understand that a lot of people were going to war. We must support them. So many of our employees are currently working as employees. Someone helps with the food. Someone will help in the workshops to produce all the needs of our army and our people.


MA: Even during a war, a nation must eat. And that’s what Tim found another company in western Ukraine trying to do under extreme circumstances. And here, it’s not just a war economy. It’s a kind of war zone economy.

MAK: So here we are in the offices of a milk manufacturer here in Ukraine. The hallways are quite dark. Lights are off and all windows are taped shut, covered in plastic, in case there is an explosion nearby that could disrupt and shatter the glass, possibly injuring someone.

MA: Tim meets Vitaliy Kovalchuk. He is a co-owner of a company called Molokia, which manufactures dairy products. And through a translator, Vitaliy tells Tim that he is focused on shipping as much milk as possible to the people of the capital, which is still under assault from Russian forces.

VITALIY KOVALCHUK: (through interpreter) We don’t know at the moment how many products we will sell and how many products we will just give to people. So, when our car arrives in kyiv, the first thing we say is – to volunteers, it’s just to pick it up. Take it for the people. First of all, we aim to help the military. So we try to reach them by any means possible and let them know that if they need anything, they can come get it. And then what’s left, we call the stores and see who needs what, and then we try to deliver it to them. And then whatever’s left of that, we go to the volunteer places, the humanitarian aid places, and we bring it to them just for people to come get it for food.

MAK: He said it in such a way that it was really interesting because, you know, he waved his hand like he was saying, you know, it doesn’t matter.

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: Exactly – that’s what he said.

Mak: You know.

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: If you are asking about the company, currently there is no company. So mission number one is to save our country. And business – we will find out later.

MAK: You know, are you currently concerned about a humanitarian crisis and food shortages all over Ukraine because of the war?

KOVALCHUK: (Through interpreter) Yes. We are very concerned about the situation, about the humanitarian crisis. And even this interview also worries me because if it falls into the hands of the enemy, if he finds out about our system, how we work, he can try to cut us off. This is a big problem, so we need to be aware of it.

MAK: Well, we certainly don’t discuss specifics of routes or locations or anything like that. So tell me, why is it still important to speak up and get your message across to the public?

KOVALCHUK: (through interpreter) We see how the world is reacting all over the planet, how everyone is supporting Ukraine right now. So I understand that people are trying to help, and we have to get the message across that it’s a fight. It’s a big fight, and it’s tough times here. So it’s important to have this interview from that perspective for people to realize how bad it really is. I am very worried about people having food there in Kyiv.

MAK: I asked a lot of people if they had a message for the Russian army and Vladimir Putin. What would that be?

KOVALCHUK: (Through interpreter) The emotions that most people in Ukraine, Ukrainians are feeling right now, are probably hatred. I would say Russians – stop. Get out of here, and let us live our lives calmly, and let us decide how we want to live as an independent country.


MA: Testimonials from two business owners in Ukraine. Special thanks to NPR correspondent Tim Mak and all of our colleagues in Ukraine at this time. Be careful.

This show was produced by Senior Producer Viet Le with assistance from Isaac Rodrigues. It has been verified by Corey Bridges. Kate Concannon is editing the show. And THE INDICATOR is an NPR production.


Copyright © 2022 NRP. All rights reserved. Visit the Terms of Use and Permissions pages of our website at for more information.

NPR transcripts are created in peak time by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative recording of NPR’s programming is the audio recording.

Christi C. Elwood