Ecorubric 09:48 02 Sep 2023

Start with yourself: how activists from Zaporizhzhia adjust their region to climate change

Checking radiation levels and water quality, planting trees, and creating educational resources - Rubryka found out how the Ecosense NGO operates.

What is the problem?

The war has made environmental issues much worse around the world. But naturally, Ukrainians are the most concerned because they don't know what their post-war country will look like. Can nature manage to push back against Russia's invasion, which is doing everything to turn Ukraine into a wasteland? Will Ukrainian cities and villages manage to heal all these terrible and painful wounds?

What is the solution?

It is necessary to start looking for answers to these questions immediately, not wait until the war is over – that's what the Zaporizhzhia Ecosense NGO believes. 

Since 2016, the Ecosense NGO has been working to bring environmental awareness, sustainable development, and adaptation to climate change to Zaporizhzhia. For the past six months, in collaboration with local authorities, they have been looking at ways to conduct green restoration in their hometown.

How does it work?

Zaporizhzhia eco-optimists

Seven years ago, journalist Tetiana Zhavzharova, doctor Anna Prishutova, and biologist Victoria Sokil met up in the office of a Zaporizhzhia media company. While working, they realized they all held the same values: a positive outlook, a love for nature, and a proactive lifestyle. That's why, when Tetiana Zhavzharova suggested planting a small Green Park in one of Zaporizhzhia's neighborhoods, she got everyone's approval right away — this became the first joint project of the future co-founders of the Ecosense NGO.


The Ecosense NGO, along with the youths from Zaporizhzhia, have been planting flowers. This photo is from the Ecosense NGO's archives.

Eco-activists took it upon themselves to make Zaporizhzhia greener and cleaner by planting trees and flowers, organizing clean-ups, and collecting garbage. At the same time, they ran blogs, and wrote informative and investigative articles to teach people about what was happening in the city and how to take care of the environment and their own well-being. "Start with yourself" was the central idea of the small yet passionate community.

At the same time, the compassionate activists of Zaporizhzhia understood that local environmental issues are interconnected, and people must work together to resolve them, above all, by altering their everyday habits. A group of similar-minded people congregated over time: lawyers, energy specialists, environmental experts, and educators joined the nature lovers. So when they made the decision to create a public association – Ecosense – in 2016, their focus was environmental education.

That year, Ukraine signed the Paris Agreement, and the conversation around the globe started to spin around climate change and the need to adjust to it. Zaporizhzhia is a hot and dry area, where trees and shade are few and far between, and crops only thrive if they're irrigated; couple that with an absence of rivers and water of unreliable quality in the wells – understanding this, the newly-founded organization set to the task of creating effective solutions for Zaporizhzhia to face climate change.

"We called ourselves "eco-optimists" and sought to take specific actions that would cause the "butterfly effect" and show people that each of us can do something insignificant, but together we cause changes," says Tetiana Zhavzharova, the founder of the Ecosense NGO.


Ecosense NGO team. Photo from the activists' archive

"Zaporizhia eco-optimists" set up a psychological eco-club, where they hosted routine environmental workshops for people from Zaporizhzhia and its surroundings. They removed ragweed from the city landscape. After cleaning up the Dnipro and Sukha Moskovka rivers, they picked up the rubbish and built a "green corridor" of trees along the riverbank. All of this not only made the industrial city healthier, but it also showed others what could be done near their own homes. Six years later many people with the same goal joined the community. First, they planted birch and apple trees – the same Green Park, which is where Ecosense first started – and eventually, this "pocket" park has become a favorite spot among the townspeople for relaxing.

But the main thing is that Ecosense attempted to shift the way environmental issues are addressed at the level of decisionmaking. As a result, the NGO crafted a local Climate Targets Road Map for Zaporizhzhia and the neighbourhood, and was one of the inventors of the Zaporizhzhia Climate Transformation Course of Action.

After February 24

Right from the start of the all-out invasion, the Ecosense NGO started warning the people of Zaporizhzhia about the environmental hazards brought on by the war. Radiation accidents were an immediate risk once the Russians seized the Zaporizhzhia NPP in March 2022. Tetiana Zhavzharova said people were inquiring if the radiation level had spiked following the bombardments and damage. However, the authorities didn't give prompt replies to these questions. Consequently, Ecosense started to set up stations to publicly monitor radiation background and air pollutant levels, which immediately give the results of measurements. At the start, monitoring stations were put together with the help of the international program "Clean Air for Ukraine", followed by the international foundation "Renaissance". Getting information on radiation and air pollution online through the EcoCity map or the Radiation and Smog Alarm app became possible.


Water quality research using an express laboratory. Photo from the archive of the Ecosense NGO

During the war, the quality of water in rivers and wells got worse. As the Russians destroyed the centralized water supply systems, people had to look for other sources of water. That's when Ecosense studied water quality in the small rivers of Zaporizhzhia for the first time. It turned out that the water from those little rivers and creeks, which used to be looked at as just ditches, can, with the right kind of cleaning, turn out to be drinkable and potentially save lives. After the findings of the study, webinars were put together for everyday people and employees of indomitable points on preparation and methods of finding and purifying water from natural sources.

"Of course, we, like many other citizens of Zaporizhzhia, volunteered," adds the eco-activist. – Our humanitarian headquarters was called Dandelion. In the first, most terrible months of the war, when the enemy advanced through the Zaporizhzhia region and blocked the logistics routes, with the support of international partners, it was possible to help about 2,000 lonely women and children and elderly people. And when shelling of the city began to occur much less often, we returned to work in the environmental field."

Zaporizhzhia recovery plan


In June 2023, Ecosense started tracking the conditions of the Dnipro River and the quality of the water. Picture from the organization's archive.

During the war, some members of Ecosense fled Zaporizhzhia, but new members who are committed to restoring the city in a sustainable way joined the organization. This became a new challenge that Ecosense took on.

The NGO started raising the topic of green restoration of Zaporizhzhia in November 2022. To do this, they created their own information source and began involving experts, the public, and the authorities to plan the community's comprehensive restoration.

"The restoration of front-line Zaporizhzhia is a serious task that needs professional and public discussion right now. Looking at how quickly we have to restore the wounds of war — destroyed houses, city infrastructure objects, damaged green areas, lost people — one realizes that there is little time," says Tetiana Zhavzharova.

The Ecosense NGO believes it's vital to start creating a recovery plan today to figure out how to make the city more pleasant and cozy.

The organization was the first in Zaporizhzhia to start heading this way. To kick off, they developed recommendations to help local governments while creating the "Zaporizhzhia Restoration Plan" with an emphasis on the "green" aspect. They selected the issue of adjusting to climate change. Tetyana Zhavzharova explains: that the city needs to have more greenery to handle heatwaves, droughts, winds, and dust better – all of which have become harder to deal with due to the war, the draining of the Kakhovka Reservoir, and the cutting down of trees.

The NGO's work also resulted in recommendations for how to make the energy infrastructure more environmentally friendly and sustainable. For instance, buying generators isn't viable in the long run because of the need for constant energy sources and all the polluting emissions they create. Providing the hospital with solar panels or the kindergarten with solar collectors are more eco-friendly alternatives – nothing new, but the same sustainable development and clean energy that Ecosense has been pushing for all along.

Work is still ongoing. The Zaporizhzhia Restoration Council held a meeting on June 16, during which the project "The Restoration Council as a tool for involving the public in the formation of an ecosystem of stability, sustainability, and democracy in the Zaporizhzhia region" was presented. This project has been started by the NGOs Ecosense, and "Dyvosvit" with the support of the government of Great Britain and the National Platform for Sustainability and Cohesion in the Zaporizhzhia Region.


Meeting of the Zaporizhzhia Restoration Council. Photo from the activists' archive 

The Council consists of 22 active Zaporozhzhia residents and experts who are also contributing, and their job is to make the Zaporizhzhia recovery process even better. Members of the Recovery Council have already begun cooperating with the Administration and have linked up with the City Council's official working group on recovery planning to make the process more effective. 

The Council will bring together the findings of surveys, focus groups, and public discussions, based on the opinions and needs of the community, with the assistance of sociological experts from the Zaporizhzhia National University, to present to the local governing bodies for further consideration.

The plan for reviving Zaporizhzhia's Urban Territorial Community has already been incorporated into the city's 2023 social and economic development program. Of course, full-fledged reconstruction can begin only after the end of full-scale hostilities, but there is already work to be done today. Assessing the war's impact on various sectors, brainstorming ways and means to recover, figuring out the necessities, and computing the necessary resources for recovery are urgent tasks for both the public and the authorities in not only Zaporizhzhia but also any other Ukrainian city or village that's been affected by the war.

The goal is the green restoration of Ukraine


Cleaning up the banks of the Dnipro River that was washed ashore after the Kakhovka HPP explosion. Photo: the archive of the Ecosense NGO.

In July 2022, Ukraine presented its Recovery Plan in Lugano, Switzerland. The primary goal of post-war recovery is to ensure a clean and safe environment, staying on the European green track and rebuilding the economy based on the principles of lasting growth. The country is also making sure to draw in investments. Through the LIFE program, Ukraine can carry out various projects even before they join the European Union. 

For Ukrainians, this means the EU will provide money for rebuilding projects in Ukraine, but only after properly weighing up the environmental effects those projects could have. For example, new buildings must be energy-efficient, enterprises must use the best available technologies, infrastructure must take into account the need to adapt to climate change, etc.


Tetiana Zhavzharova demonstrates chemical and radiation safety monitoring stations. Photo from the activist's archiveAs for the Ecosense NGO, today the organization has two primary areas of work: resilience to environmental threats and green restoration of Zaporizhzhia. The community continues to monitor the situation with the ZNPP and the radiation background. Together with the "Dovkola" network, it began monitoring the impact of the drainage of the Kakhovka Reservoir on the state of the Dnipro River, its tributaries, and water quality.

When the Dnipro was first shallow last winter due to shelling and damage to the Kakhovka HPP, Ecosens predicted residents of the city would face a water problem and drought this summer. So they quickly put together a guide with 10 nature-based solutions that can be used in high-rise building courtyards and schools to make the air better for people: green walls, green canopies, and natural grassy meadows instead of fake grass. Right now, they are getting ready to use these solutions in a condominium as an example for others.

Even more useful solutions!

What can every Ukrainian do for the environment right now

The war caused the creation of thousands of tons of new waste- demolished structures, broken-down machinery, and remnants of shells. The amount of medical and household waste has increased. Animals die, and forests and protected steppes burn. The destruction of the Kakhovka reservoir by the occupiers led to humanitarian and ecological disasters and showed us the value of water.

"The role of environmental organizations and the media, in my opinion, is to talk about the importance of preserving the environment, to show concrete examples of how to do it. And environmental education during the war is to take care of people's safety by informing them about the environmental crimes of the Russians and how to prevent their impact on health and nature.

And, of course, a personal example works best: today, more than ever, it is worth organizing and inviting people to talks, and workshops on environmental safety, continue to plant trees, bushes, and flowers, and take care of them. Protect natural resources, including water, trees, and energy resources. Reduce the amount of waste. Minimize consumption and reduce your "ecological footprint," says Tetiana Zhavzharova.

The eco-activist stresses: the war for Ukraine's independence is the moment to practice an eco-friendly lifestyle, cherish and look after nature, and be mindful of how we use its resources. And that is just what each Ukrainian who cares about the future of our Homeland can do right now.


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