Blog: EaP Civil Society Fellowship as a driver of changes – building the eco future by ourselves
December 15, 2022

Blog: EaP Civil Society Fellowship as a driver of changes – building the eco future by ourselves

The full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine has affected the lives of Ukrainian people in different ways. It is not only people who suffer from Russian war crimes but nature and the environment as well. To raise awareness about this issue, two Young European Ambassadors (YEAs) from Ukraine, Nataliia Yaroshenko and Daryna Lynnyk, decided to unite their forces and thanks to the EaP Civil Society Fellowship this year implemented the ‘enWAR_mental’ project. 

Their peer and colleague, Karolina Rybchanivska, has interviewed them to find out more about their project and the EaP Civil Society Fellowship. She started off by asking them to introduce themselves and their project.

Nataliia: I’m Nataliia, a Young European Ambassador from Sumy since 2021, a PhD candidate in ecology at Sumy National Agrarian University, an EaP Civil Society Fellow-21, and an extremely stubborn lady working to bring more sustainability to our world. The project we are working on together with Daryna is called ‘enWAR_mental’. It is an info campaign aimed at informing students from Ukraine about the environmental consequences of the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The project title keeps the idea of thinking about ecosystems in terms of war, and it is implemented with the support of the EaP Civil Society Fellowship.

Daryna: My name is Daryna Lynnyk, I am the communication manager of the ‘enWAR_mental’ project, as well as a Young European Ambassador, a EU4Youth Alumna, a first-year student of the Faculty of History, and a project manager at the NGO ‘Women’s League’. As you can see, I combine many different things in myself, which helps me to approach certain project tasks from different sides.

Karolina: What motivated you to organise or join this project? Especially you, Daryna, as you are studying history at university and working with women’s rights. Is there any story behind it?

Nataliia: When I applied for an EaP Civil Society Fellowship, the project idea was another one. I thought about creating a comic that would describe the connection between our local actions and global challenges, but since 24 February 2022, the priorities have changed significantly. Even though my academic research topic isn’t connected with military ecosystem renovations, I have been interested in the issue for the last 6 years, when I occasionally began to deepen my knowledge in history. The realities we live in became my strongest motivation to make such a project. 

Daryna: I have always felt that we need to take care of the environment and do our best to change our bad habits for the good of our planet. I have been interested in the field of eco-activism and environmental protection for more than three years. I have implemented several local projects that raised the environmental awareness of the residents of my city – Vatutine, in Cherkasy oblast, Ukraine. But now the situation is even more critical: I understand that reducing meat consumption, saving electricity or reusing things is just nothing compared to how Russia is destroying our environment. Therefore, this project for me is my personal small contribution to the war against Russia on the information front and the struggle for the right to live in a clean environment.

Karolina: Could you tell us more about the format of your project: does it deal only with online engagement and awareness raising, or do you have other activities as well? 

Daryna: As part of our activities, we cover in English and Ukrainian the cases of Russian destruction of Ukraine’s environment on our Instagram and Facebook pages, we research and share the experience of other countries that have survived wars in the restoration of ecosystems, share stories of foreigners about how they and the environment of their countries have recovered from wars, organise and participate in public events that raise awareness about the impact of war on the environment of Ukraine. 

We try to talk about difficult things in a simple and interesting way. To this end, we created a comic book, ‘enWAR_mental’, which describes the journey of brother and sister Yuriy and Myroslava in search of a safe place to live in Ukraine. Their journey is not easy, because they face a lot of difficulties caused by war: burning forests, mined areas, bombed cities and much more. This comic tries to tell about what is happening in the country, fighting Russian propaganda and drawing attention to environmental problems. 

Karolina: What is your main target audience? Was it easy to involve them in your activities?

Daryna: We focus on young people from Ukraine and other European countries who are studying at university and are concerned about the fate of Ukraine and our planet as a whole. These people are active and conscious, so we had no problems communicating and involving them in our events or activities. During the implementation of the events and poster contest, we focused on Ukrainian students who study ecology or are concerned about environmental protection and are ready to develop themselves in this field. 

Karolina: What did you manage to achieve while implementing the project? What are the results of your hard work in general and for yourselves? How long did it take to achieve them?

Nataliia: I might separate the achievement into two – mine and sociable. Being responsible for the project, my main task is to lead the project through the obstacles regarding the energy problems and rising prices caused by the Russian full-scale invasion. Sometimes, there is no electricity, and again and again, the issue is lack of time, but I can say with 100% certainty that I never had any thoughts about quitting the project. It’s your responsibility, so you have to move forward. 

Regarding the community achievements… We have been working together since May 2022, and this journey is one of the most flexible and resilient I’ve ever had. We are making steps forward to understand another impact of war, the environmental impact, through various activities.  We have organised a poster competition and received more than 50 amazing works. We also finished a comic strip about the war’s impact on Ukrainian ecosystems. You can find it here

What is also significant – I did several study visits in Germany and Belgium to explore how they are dealing with the impact of  WWII on the environment. On our Instagram page, you can also watch the videos from our friends from Georgia and Kosovo, who have shared the post-war impact in their countries. And there’s much more to come!

Daryna: Our goal was to speak to the general public about Russia’s crimes against the environment, and I think we achieved this goal. We had thousands of hits on our Instagram posts and were able to build a community of people who support us and are interested in the environmental situation in Ukraine. This is extremely valuable for us. For me personally, the project has become an opportunity to grow in such a difficult time. I was able to improve my communication and design skills, which I will use in the implementation of further projects.

Karolina: I see this project demands lots of resources. How did you manage to find them?

Nataliia: Firstly, this project is all about cooperation on different levels. That’s the main source – people who stand with you in order to keep things going. I consider we became a family with different types of relations that help us to cope with the challenges related to the project implementation at a time of war. 

But above all, enWAR_mental couldn`t be implemented without the technical and financial support of the EaP Civil Society Fellowship. The Fellowship itself is a great push and support – if you have any concerns you can ask the team directly both about tips and networks they might have. However, the most vital issue is that Fellowship is a person-oriented experience that makes you think from another perspective of project management.

Daryna: I am looking for an answer to this question myself. Now it is very difficult for all of us because we combine studying, work, blackouts, anxiety, shelling, worries about loved ones who live in the occupied territory or are in the army, and at the same time work on a difficult project. But we have a clear understanding of why we are doing this – for our victory on all fronts, so despite all the troubles, emotional burnout and lack of strength, we continue to do what we have to do.

Karolina: Nataliia, could you please tell me more about the EaP Civil Society Fellowship programme? 

Nataliia: The main objective of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Fellowships is to support civil society activists or civically minded women and men who demonstrate a deep commitment to leading positive social change in their communities (including IT experts such as software engineers, data scientists, designers who innovate at the intersection of technology and the needs of their communities). The Fellowships aim to build the Fellows’ capacity to constructively engage with communities and authorities and contribute to reforms in the EaP countries. More information about the Fellowship is available here

The Fellowship is more about YOU in the project, your leadership in making social changes, and your contribution to YOU as a society leader.

Karolina: Actually, how exactly does the Russian war in Ukraine influence our environment? Are there any specific examples?

Nataliia: The case we are working with is to keep attention on the ecological consequences of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. We can’t yet assess the full picture of the damage because of ongoing missile attacks against different parts of Ukraine. From February 24, 2022, as a result of the military aggression of Russia on Ukraine: 182,880 m2 of soil is contaminated, 2,365,129 m2 of land is littered with all kinds of debris, 680,618 tons of oil products and 23,286 hectares of forest were burned by shelling, 7,155,689 m2 of buildings were destroyed, including critical infrastructure. This data is published by the State Ecological Inspection. Terrific, right?

Daryna: War destroys entire ecosystems and greatly degrades the state of our air, water and land. For example, Russian warships in the Black Sea, from which the entire territory of Ukraine is shelled, literally kill dolphins. Dolphins suffer from the actions of Russian aggressors who have mined part of the Black Sea. Powerful shells fired by the Russians from surface and submarines, as well as the use of military sonar, have a negative impact on the animals. Dolphins fall into the radiation zone of navigation devices of Russian vessels, which disables the dolphins’ hearing organs. As a result, they cease to perceive echoes well and navigate in space. 

Karolina: What are your plans for the future?

Nataliia: Next step is to keep the project visible. In short, lots has been done, and much more to come.

Daryna: It is extremely difficult to talk about plans because today you have electricity and light and you can work, and the next day Russia is shelling civilian infrastructure all over Ukraine, and your uncle is injured… I will continue to study and work on projects that will help create the kind of country I want to live in.

Karolina: I am convinced that after reading this article many people wish to become more eco-friendly and help our planet to survive all the challenges it is undergoing. What would you recommend young people do in this regard? 

Nataliia: Start with yourself. Educate yourself about the relevant ways of being sustainable. Keep going with educating your close circle. Every single contribution matters.

Daryna: I want to make it clear: any war is not local when it comes to the environment. Ecosystems cannot be divided by conventional borders by simply drawing them on a map. If the natural balance is destroyed in one geolocation, it will definitely be felt in another. 

Therefore, now the whole world community should focus on stopping Russia’s ecocides. How can this be done? By spreading information about it in your social networks, joining rallies in support of Ukraine and making donations to Ukrainian funds that help the military to fight the Russians. In my opinion, focusing only on our eco-habits to save the planet, ignoring the fact that Russia is deliberately destroying our ecosystems, is an attempt to escape from these fateful problems.

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