EcoRubric 10:04 27 Sep 2022

"While Ukrainian army clears our land from occupiers, we clear it from waste," or Let's Do It Ukraine's environmental and humanitarian missions

Until February 25, Let's do it Ukraine was an organization that organized the most extensive volunteer cleanups in Ukraine, researched the environment, and taught people how to treat the planet.

But with the beginning of a full-scale war, the team had to reformat to meet new challenges. It launched a humanitarian initiative, which received an award from the UN as one of the most effective in the world. Rubryka talked to Let's do it Ukraine and learned about volunteers who trade their bulletproof vests for additional food kits, how the organization decided to return to ecology, and how volunteers go for coffee under artillery fire.

Екологічні та гуманітарні місії Let's do it Ukraine

"There were fireworks on February 24"

Morning. Zoom session—a standard meeting place for those who do the same job from different cities. Two people listen, and two talk. Polina speaks first:

"I met the February 24 in Mariupol, and I couldn't be with the organization physically during this period. Therefore, I only later read how it all happened on the website."

Then the woman's colleague, Anastasia, adds with a smile:

"On February 23, Polina celebrated her birthday, and on February 24…"

"And on February 24, there were 'fireworks,'" Polina laughs in response

Екологічні та гуманітарні місії Let's do it Ukraine

Polina Pavlenko

Polina Pavlenko is the head of the Let's do it Ukraine press center, and Anastasia Koshuba is the PR director of the organization. Both had to evacuate from dangerous Mariupol and Kyiv. Anastasia jokes that the war brought her to Let's do it because the woman lost her previous job, but in time she joined a team she had known for a long time. Then she goes about how she met a full-scale war in Let's do it Ukraine.

Екологічні та гуманітарні місії Let's do it Ukraine

Екологічні та гуманітарні місії Let's do it Ukraine

Yulia Markhel on the left

"On the eve of the war, our leader, Yulia Markhel, was abroad. And then the war began. Everyone panicked, and no one understood what to do. She got to Italy from there and managed to take her mother there. And it was from Italy that she coordinated and gathered a humanitarian from Italy. And then she got to Kyiv, where we organized the first humanitarian hubs."

Then the initiative spread throughout Ukraine. Initially, only Zakarpattia and Kyiv regions were to be connected. But in the end, the project expanded to 18 areas," says Anastasia.

Екологічні та гуманітарні місії Let's do it Ukraine

Anastasia Koshuba

Now more than 2,300 volunteers participate in the Let's do it Ukraine SOS humanitarian mission. They search, collect, pack, deliver and distribute food kits to those in need. The initiative cooperates with ministries, departments, military and city administrations, social services, and the SpivDiia national platform. At the same time, the team is launching new environmental initiatives.

"Why buy 20 bulletproof vests"

Екологічні та гуманітарні місії Let's do it Ukraine

"Volunteers perform many different roles: someone makes food kits, someone distributes them, someone accepts and processes applications, someone coordinates all this. And someone prepares reports because it is also an essential element of our work.

That is, volunteers don't have many weekends. At a meeting on the eve of [Ukraine's] Independence Day, our director asked regional coordinators not to go out to distribute humanitarian aid. There was a case when a rocket struck one of our humanitarian hubs. And going out on August 24 would be extremely dangerous.

These are volunteers. They also have work, friends, and children. The people coordinating now are mostly the ones who have been there since March. And we ask them to rest at least sometimes," Anastasia Koshuba shares.

Екологічні та гуманітарні місії Let's do it Ukraine

Let's do it Ukraine SOS humanitarian headquarters work in 18 regions of Ukraine, including those actively shelled by the russians, such as Mykolaiv and Kharkiv, and those, a significant part of which is under russian occupation—the Kherson and Donetsk regions. All these are particular challenges for volunteers.

Anastasia Shapoval, the press center chief of the Let's do it Kharkiv branch, says that going for coffee or to the office under artillery fire is the real Kharkiv vibe.

Екологічні та гуманітарні місії Let's do it Ukraine

Leader of Let's do it Ukraine, Yulia Markhel, against the background of a destroyed building

"Our guys are constantly driving around the city. We have particularly dangerous areas. Honestly, after returning from the evacuation, I thought I would only go home and office because my house is in a safe location, and the office is like that too. Although, when you talk about Kharkiv, it is all entirely conditional.

Then I was accidentally taken to Saltivka [the most affected district of Kharkiv, — ed.]. At first, it was a little creepy, but then you realize it's okay. It is very uncomfortable for people who move through extremely safe areas to see any destruction. But for our volunteers, it is everyday life.

I go to get coffee during the shelling, which doesn't bother me much. It's scary when you think about it. There's something about the Kharkiv mood," the woman says.

Екологічні та гуманітарні місії Let's do it Ukraine

Anastasia Shapoval

Anastasia talks a lot about the team—about Nikita, who, at 17, became the head of the warehouse, about Uncle Zhenia, who at the beginning of the escalation asked the city telephone line operators who it would be better to volunteer with, and about many others.

"For example, we have Miss Nadia. One day she just left the house, saw the volunteers, and said: 'I will be with you guys.' Now she is the heart of the team. You come to the office, and she is already here. You leave the office, and she's still here. She's the grandmother of the entire office," the woman laughs.

Her namesake from the central office, Anastasia Koshuba, shares another story about volunteers. After one of the organization's teams came under fire while delivering food kits, the office decided that it was time to provide them with bulletproof vests and gave the volunteers funds to buy them.

"As a result, the volunteers counted the money given to them and decided: why buy 20 bulletproof vests when you can buy more food for people, water, and hygiene products? It was more important for them," Anastasia recalls.

"Meeting heroes on the clean land"

Екологічні та гуманітарні місії Let's do it Ukraine

Let's do it Ukraine and World Cleaning Day

From the beginning of the full-scale war until the summer, the Let's do it Ukraine team completely switched to its humanitarian initiative—complex logistics, coordination of hubs' work, processing thousands of aid requests, search for partners, and constant reporting.

But in mid-June, the head of the team, Yulia Markhel, was called from occupied Henichesk:

"We want to know about the impact of war on ecology," they said.

"Are you occupied there?"

"Well, yes, but it worries us."

Екологічні та гуманітарні місії Let's do it Ukraine

The journalists of one of the local publications called. They decided to talk about the russian army's environmental crimes despite their stay under occupation. Let's do it says it is the sign that they should return to the previous missions.

"People began to have questions, and they began to notice garbage under their feet again. They even held conventions somewhere on the topic of whether one can swim in rivers. And we can return to our usual activities with the humanitarian project.

The russian army has already committed hundreds of environmental crimes. In particular, damage to industrial infrastructure impacts the environment and water pollution. There is a plague of fish and dolphins in the Sea of ​​Azov… All this has specific reasons and will soon have inevitable consequences. Add garbage; it doesn't go anywhere.

There are also known cases when the rubble was dismantled in Mariupol without first searching for the dead residents' bodies. And together with the remains of people, garbage was taken to the landfill, closed back in 2018," says Polina Pavlenko.

Екологічні та гуманітарні місії Let's do it Ukraine

Her colleague, Anastasia, adds:

"The same tourniquets are thrown somewhere in the forest, and then they are not taken away. Of course, the military is too busy to pay attention to the fact that they littered something. The most important thing for them is to remain intact and push the enemy as far as possible. That is why they save, and we clean up after them as best we can.

While the Ukrainian Armed Forces are clearing the land from the occupiers, we are clearing it of debris so we can later meet the victory on clean land. That's why we have a new format for the World Cleaning Day, sorting out the rubble."

Екологічні та гуманітарні місії Let's do it Ukraine

The format involves agreeing on the location with the local administration, the preliminary work of rescuers who check whether there are no mines or other munitions at the site and only then do the volunteers start working.

The same applies to World Cleaning Day, traditionally held on the third Saturday of September in most regions of Ukraine. Despite everything, the Donetsk region became the leader in cleaning applications.

Екологічні та гуманітарні місії Let's do it Ukraine

In addition, Let's do it Ukraine is launching a digital cleanup, building Let's do it House—shelters for displaced people and people who have lost their homes. The team is also preparing expeditions where volunteers and researchers will study the state of Ukrainian beaches and how they can be improved.

Since the war continues, the humanitarian initiative continues its daily work.

You can support the project financially or join it as a volunteer by following this link.

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