Special Project 18:30 24 May 2022

"Cleaning up after ruscists": an environmental activist in his 60s gathers Kharkiv residents to clean up rubble

"I'm a little over 60, just a little," says Ihor, a Kharkiv resident, entrepreneur, and environmental activist. Since the escalation began, he has been a volunteer who organizes the cleaning of his hometown, where the russians left their mark.

Rubryka continues the Faces of Ukraine's Defense project and tells the stories about people, bringing our victory closer. The world must know their names. Their stories must create our future.

Ігор Удовіков Харків

The first shelling and coffee for the road

"On February 24, the customer and I shipped equipment from my production base during explosions. When we realized it was dangerous and couldn't stand these sounds, I offered him to go to the office and drink coffee. But when the water was boiling, he couldn't stand it and said he had to go. He left, and the boys and I stayed."

Ihor Udovikov is an entrepreneur. Before the full-scale war started, his company manufactured electrical laboratories, transformers, and other equipment. Now the production is at a standstill. One of the premises burned down; almost all logistics routes have closed. As Ihor says, "business is asleep." How quickly we can wake it up is unknown.

Ігор Удовіков Харків

On February 24, Ihor and his team shipped equipment for another 12 hours, then managed to catch the last tram to the city center and the subway. Soon all public transport in Kharkiv stopped. It became dangerous to go outside. For the third month in a row, the russians have been regularly shelling the city.

"I'm an active person. After the first shock of the war, sometime in early March, I felt I couldn't sit idle. I thought about how much destruction there is now, how people sit in the subway, schools, and basements. I thought that these people were probably just like me. Then I went to the city with the suggestion that it was enough to sit idle; we would have to go out to clean up after the ruscists at some point. And I wrote a letter," says Ihor.

Since the man's name is well known to the local authorities, they also reacted quickly to the initiative.

"Just an abandoned stream"

It's precisely how, Mr. Ihor says, many Kharkiv residents think about one of the largest and oldest rivers in the Kharkiv region—the Nemyshlia River. The man has dedicated three years of his life to it. That's why he has the city authorities' trust.

Ihor Udovikov developed a project to restore the river; after he convinced the authorities, they began to clear up the river and connect it to another project—the Green Frame. Before Mr. Ihor intervened in the project, it was to unite all city green areas with bicycle paths. Now, the frame will also include kayak routes.

Ігор Удовіков Харків

"I had an ambitious goal to travel the river in kayaks as a pioneer. This river has never seen a kayak! It was just an abandoned stream, as some people thought. But I've been working on this project for three years, and I see that it is not.

As this river is one of the largest in our country, many questions arise about private territories. Because of this, I realized that I could have problems. But when I received guarantees of protection from the city, I started working with the river and saw its potential. As planned, I had to do environmental expertise in the spring and look for funds…

But the war undermined everything," says Ihor Udovikov.

The man cheerfully highlights that he has 40 years of tourist experience behind him, and he knows what a river should be like to gather people around it.

"I'm a tourist who has seen many rivers worldwide—40 years of tourist and kayaking experience. I'm a little over 60, just a little. But I'm still in action. In October, my wife and I walked the last 100 kilometers along the Lycian hiking trail. In 5 years, I've walked the entire route; it's about 600 kilometers. They say it's one of the ten most beautiful routes globally. You know, I confirm it," says the man.

Ігор Удовіков Харків

He says his travels have shown him how other countries transform their nature into objects of world importance. So returning from a trip to his native Kharkiv, he also wants to see tourists who will admire the local wildlife.

With the start of a full-scale war and the devastation it has brought to Kharkiv, the activist's goal is to restore the river immediately and add it to the city's plan to implement the project.

Ігор Удовіков Харків

"Not being incidental people"

As for the clean-up organization in Kharkiv after the shelling, Ihor approached it with the same earnestness. He notes that he plans everything clearly and must always know who will be around.

"I create a request about an assignment—those who want to volunteer text pluses in our chat. As experience has shown, people respond very well to large-scale objects. Since Kharkiv doesn't have transport now, we have to bring people, and I should calculate cars from different areas. I estimate it all.

I have to coordinate the activities of about 30 people at a time. And it's a full-time job. Not two hours with a broom, but from 9 am to 3 or 3:30 pm. I then chat about the photo report, share further plans, and conduct a survey to see who can join the next day if the object is large.

This way, people start to understand who they are working with side by side and who they are having a relationship with, which makes me very happy. Everyone should know who is around and not be incidental people. So, our volunteers are not only people who work for free but also people who enjoy being helpful," Ihor explains.

Ігор Удовіков Харків

Rescuers are choosing the objects that the volunteers will clean. Also, another person, Ihor's partner, with experience working with the city council, helps with the organization. Ihor then coordinates the volunteers, and his partner keeps in touch with the rescuers and looks for all the necessary materials and tools to work with.

Ігор Удовіков Харків

When I ask if he has thought about going to safer regions, he doesn't let me finish the question. He says "no" and says he has a wife, two sons, and a daughter-in-law with a grandson. The son's wife with a kid went abroad to make everyone more relaxed. The sons also decided to volunteer. One is with his father; the other is with the Red Cross. And Ihor's wife refused to leave her boys and her city.

"I didn't even think that I could leave Kharkiv. Who'll be in Kharkiv then? Who'll need this city if the residents leave their homes? Ruscists? That's why I have the saying from the first days of the invasion that guides me: nothing ventured, nothing gained," the volunteer says.

It seems that Ihor is not one of those people who are afraid. Or not one of those who can't overcome fear.

The article was prepared within the grant competition from the NGO Internews-Ukraine with the financial support of Sweden and Internews (Audience understanding and digital support project). The views expressed in this publication are solely those of the author.

Матеріал підготовлено в рамках реалізації грантового конкурсу від ГО «Інтерньюз-Україна» за фінансової підтримки Швеції та Internews (проект Audience understanding and digital support). Думки, виражені в цій публікації, відображають виключно точку зору автора.


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