March 4, 2022
“We are young climate activists usually fighting a crisis we didn’t cause, and now find ourselves on the frontlines of a war we didn’t start,” reads the posted tweet. by Fridays for Future Ukraine on March 1.
Much of the media coverage of Putin’s attack on Ukraine tends to portray the war in terms of either a Russian-led battle against expanding NATO powers, or the mission of despot to reconquer an ancient empire. But for activists demanding climate justice in a country threatened by Russia for several years, this attack is another example in a long series of oil and gas conflicts that have claimed millions of lives in recent history. . Modern warfare, they say, is almost always a struggle for fossil fuels. And that’s a massive contributor to catastrophic climate change in itself: the burning of fossil fuels at a high rate.
It’s impossible to talk about the climate crisis right now, but war only makes the crisis worse and hastens the time to the apocalypse’
Anastasiia Onufriv lives in western Ukraine, where Russian tanks and rockets have not yet disturbed the town of Stryi in Lviv Oblast. Yet she feels the effects of the war. “The community has become very strong,” Onufriv said. “Everyone wants to do something.”
On the other hand, Onufriv feels widespread distrust and concerns are growing as people run out of money. Rents in the city have skyrocketed in recent weeks, with some landlords taking advantage of the influx of refugees fleeing eastern regions.
For now, Onufriv is grateful that its own rent hasn’t increased, and it applauds the Ukrainian government for keeping commodity prices down. Still, things are tight because, due to the war, she lost her job as a manager of online English lessons for students in Kyiv.
In addition to teaching, Onufriv has been active for a year and a half with the international youth-led climate network, Fridays for Future.
“It’s impossible to talk about the climate crisis right now,” Onufriv said, “but war only aggravates the crisis and speeds up time to the apocalypse.” She believes “fossil fuel capitalism” is at the heart of why Putin is attacking her country. “Fossil fuels are central to the economy of the modern world,” she said.
In Ukraine, there are oil reserves in the Black Sea and black coal deposits in the Donbass region. These two regions rich in fossil fuels are now claimed by Putin. Crimea, a Black Sea peninsula that has been disputed for much of history between Russia and Ukraine, was annexed by Russia in 2014. The Donbas region has been recognized by Russia as two Self-declared states on February 24, just as the Russian invasion of Ukraine began.
Onufriv’s thoughts are echoed by other members of Fridays for Future Ukraine, who are spread across the country, living in very different circumstances.
Ilyess Ek, Secretary of the Board of Fridays for Future Ukraine, grew up in both Ukraine and Morocco, now lives in a shelter near the borders of the European Union. He cannot reveal where. Having lost his Moroccan passport, Ek currently has no chance of leaving Ukraine. He doesn’t want to leave, but to avoid being drafted into the army, he stays in hiding. “I am a humanitarian volunteer,” Ek said. “I don’t want to kill people.” He continues to coordinate with contacts throughout Ukraine and Poland to help organize safe passage for refugees who need to be transported to the border.
Despite his own direct involvement in the current war, Ek expresses an understanding of the conflict as a global phenomenon. “It’s no different from what happened in Iraq ten years ago, or in Sudan, Afghanistan, Syria and Libya,” he said. “But now Europe can see clearly, it can happen anywhere.”
“My dream now is to go home”
Meanwhile in Kiev, Ihor Sumliennyi is stuck in his second-floor apartment. Rockets have struck near both sides of her home in recent days, but her father is battling cancer and cannot be moved to a shelter. The two will stay in their apartment for the time being.
“There is not enough bread, fruits and vegetables, but there is enough water and food for us,” Sumliennyi said. “There is still garbage collection – life goes on.” The independent accountant usually acts as the international coordinator of Fridays for Future Ukraine.
Sumliennyi expressed concern about attempts by the Russian military to take control of Ukrainian nuclear power plants. He worries both about what might happen if Putin decides to use nuclear weapons, or also if a rocket were to hit a nuclear power plant. “It could cause another incident in Chernobyl,” he said. Since I spoke with Sumliennyi, those fears have become a much more real prospect amid the bombing of the Zaporizhzhia power station, which houses six of Ukraine’s 15 nuclear reactors, on Thursday night. A fire was put out early Friday morning, but the site is now believed to have been captured by the Russian military.
This could cause another Chernobyl’
Back in Kiev Oblast, Arina Bilai stays with a relative’s friend. At 16, she recently became the social media and communications coordinator for Fridays for Future Ukraine, having previously worked with an NGO called Teenergizer.
But all of that is on hold for now. Growing up in Kiev, Bilai finds it difficult to cope mentally with the ongoing war. “My dream now is to go home and wake up in my bed,” she said.
Bilai had some sharp words to describe what she expects from European leaders: “The war in Ukraine is also about fossil fuels, which make up half of Russia’s economy, and Europe’s dependence on them,” Bilai said. . “Show that you demand independence from Russian fossil fuels by providing for sectoral sanctions and reluctance to have the money of Russian oligarchs.”
Fridays for Future activists like Onufriv, Ek, Sumliennyi and Bilai wanted to draw attention to how fossil fuels are linked to war in their country and called on organizers around the world to hold rallies in solidarity with Ukraine.
The call did not go unnoticed. On March 3, Fridays for Future Ukraine tweeted a list of 130 cities where protests were taking place. The majority were in Europe, but there were also a handful in the United States and several in Africa, Asia and South America.
In Berlin, around 5,000 people marched from the Ukrainian Embassy to the Capitol building.
“We are here in solidarity with the Ukrainian people,” said Clara Duvigneau of Fridays for Future Berlin, adding that the focus of the protest was the connection between peace and climate justice, “because climate justice only works. in peace”.
While these protests won’t bring Putin to an international tribunal, the widespread support means a lot to those watching in Ukraine. “It gives us the power to keep fighting,” Onufriv said.
And this power is absolutely necessary, because for the activists on the ground in Ukraine, nothing says what tomorrow may bring.
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