Young Ukrainians are uniting to fight climate crisis

Today, young environmental activists from Ukraine are not only changing their home cities and communities for the better by teaching their fellow citizens how to sort waste or consume responsibly. They are also joining the international climate movement.

Yulia Silina, Kate Bond
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UNICEF
12 November 2021

What connects the weeds that grow in Lviv and the Amazon rainforest? What do a Kyiv train ticket and the world’s ozone layer have in common? And how does a handbag made in Ukraine affect the world’s oceans? The connection isn’t just climate change. It is the ground-breaking efforts being made by young people around the world to combat this building environmental crisis.

Today, young environmental activists from Ukraine are not only changing their home cities and communities for the better by teaching their fellow citizens how to sort waste or consume responsibly. They are also joining the international climate movement.

This year, with the support of UNICEF, young people from Ukraine took part in the UN Climate Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, UK. Crucially, their voices helped to shape the Global Youth Declaration – a document calling for change in sectors such as energy, agriculture, health, transport, water and sanitation, technology and innovation – which should be taken into account when key decisions are made and official documents are signed at COP26


UNICEF inspires young green movement

Nina Rubakha, a 24-year-old student from Ukraine’s Volyn region, has been personally affected by the global climate crisis. Last year, drought turned the top layer of her home town’s soil into a dry cracked crust. A storm then lifted it into the air, creating thick dust clouds. 

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UNICEF

Nina’s grandmother, who had to clean the dirt from the windows of her house, said she had never seen such a thing in 65 years of her life.

“When I was thinking of the large-scale environmental crisis, the constant rise in air temperature, droughts and terrible fires around the world, I felt powerless,” says Nina, who is researching climate change for her master’s thesis at Ivan Franko National University. “So I started looking for ways to change the situation locally and sought support to join the fight for the future of the planet at the international level.”

Nina volunteered with the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Plato, which deals with climate issues in Lviv. She is currently working on a severe weather safety plan in Lviv and lecturing teenagers on responsible clothing consumption.

But while Nina is working hard to improve the situation in Lviv, she knows there is much more to be done on a global level.

“I am extremely concerned that the average temperature on the planet may rise by 2.7 degrees by the end of the century. This is our future. That is why climate change today affects everyone and me personally. But young environmental activists can solve this problem only by uniting in a single movement.”

Nina jumped at the opportunity to take part in COP26.

“I feel inspired that UNICEF supports the participation of young people in COP26. It was UNICEF that heard the demands of Ukrainian youth and its quiet whisper of requests for environmental change, and that strengthened the voice of youth like a powerful booster. That’s why my personal demands on the environment no longer sound like a single voice.”

At COP26, she has been working hard to encourage the leaders of Ukraine and other countries to integrate climate education into academic curricula. 

“At the conference, I was impressed by the experience of Poland. Polish activists have collected 60,000 signatures for a petition to bring climate issues to the school curricula in their country. This inspired me to continue working on the topic of environmental education and to take a more holistic approach to it. And sometime later, to create a petition – like in Poland – for climate education to develop in Ukraine.”


Young people announce climate code red

Anastasia Bushovska, 24, another Ukrainian participant in COP26, has been calling for urgent changes to prevent global temperature rise.

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UNICEF

“COP26 in Glasgow is another step towards preventing the rise of the temperature up to at least 2 degrees Celsius,” she says. “Or at 1.5 degrees, if we manage to. Because preventing the rise in temperature will reduce the number of disasters and save millions of lives.”  

Anastasia works for the Right to Protection charitable foundation in Kyiv, which helps to research the decarbonization of coal regions. She has a passion for nature and loves to travel, with each of her trips to the mountains reiterating the importance of saving the Earth. 

“I saw garbage in the Carpathians and saw the melting glaciers of Georgia,” says Anastasia. “And I felt it was my responsibility to change that.”

She began sewing eco-friendly bags to reduce the use of plastic, sort waste at music festivals and take more environmentally-friendly modes of transport. 

“Once I needed to go to the Netherlands and, instead of a fast plane, I chose 40 hours by different trains. It was a difficult but very interesting journey,” she says.

Anastasia is a member of the international Climate Scorecard initiative and writes monthly updates on Ukraine’s progress in achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement.

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UNICEF

“Climate change has long been recognized by many reputable experts as a code red. It is therefore very important that governments are able to agree on mechanisms that can reduce humanity’s impact on the environment. And so that the world community does not forget about this problem, the youth around the world is ready to announce code red, too.”


A Ukraine without coal

Ukraine committing to abandoning the use of coal in state-owned thermal power plants by 2035 was the highlight of COP26 for the young Ukrainian delegation. Fossil fuel combustion is one of the main causes of climate change and global warming. 

“This is an incredible development both for the entire country and for me personally, because I am working in this field,” says Anastasia. “It increases the confidence that we will get rid of coal. There is already support from the international community and donors in this regard. This confirms that the abandonment of coal in Ukraine is not something that only the activists and young people need, but also the state needs it.”

Ilyess El Kortbi, the coordinator of the Fridays For Future youth movement in Ukraine, is more sceptical about Ukraine's announcement. 

“So far, I believe it is only a promise, because it is quite difficult for Ukraine to completely abandon the use of coal,” says Ilyess. “But if Ukraine does not keep this promise, young people will use it in their future climate protests. Because until we are heard, until we are given access to decision-making, we will not back off.”

However, Anastasia is convinced that the enthusiasm of young people will be enough to drive major changes – to fight, go to rallies and strikes, demonstrate their demands, and to work thoroughly to develop international strategies for environmental protection.

“Our vision is important for the future,” she says, “because we are the future.”