On March 6, Olha Boiko, Climate Action Network’s Kyiv-based coordinator for Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia (EECCA) and a member of Ecoaction, wrote this stunning appeal to climate colleagues around the world. We’ve just received her permission to republish it.
I’m not sure this is the most strategic thing to do now. Unfortunately, my ability to think strategically, to organize, to coordinate has been damaged during the last 11 days. It is difficult to mobilize people when you are the one needing help.
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I know some of you have lived through war, some of you have been through major climate catastrophes, and you know how the brain and body adapt to the immediate threat. The only reason I’m able to put so many words together in this letter is because I’ve been relatively safe (i.e. haven’t been bombed) for some time. And also because our bodies cannot sustain mobilization state for too long, it takes too much energy.
However, this letter will have structure, main messages, and call to action. This is the least I can do.
I know you have your owns lives, thankfully, and you are not as fully absorbed by the war in Ukraine as I am, but I ask you to spend a few minutes of your day to read my letter.
Main Facts So Far
Our cities are being constantly bombed. Constantly = a few times a day. Thousands of civilians are dead, including children. Thousands of houses burn and fall because of rocket hits and shelling, amongst them 211 schools. Yesterday eight civilians have been shot by Russian soldiers during evacuation from Irpin (near Kyiv). Eight rockets were fired at and destroyed airport in Vinnytsia. They were fired from Black Sea. At night on March 4, Russian troops have fired missiles at Zaporizhia Nuclear power plant. It is now occupied, same as Chornobyl NPP. More than one million refugees already entered the EU, most of them through Poland. [That number exceeded two million as of March 10—Ed.]
I can write a separate letter about heroic people of Ukraine and how they stop tanks barehanded and walk in protest while being shot at. Every village in Ukraine is prepared to fight occupants. We are indeed an army of 40 million people. Ukrainian leaders are united, both on national and local level. We have decentralized volunteering centers who manage all kinds of help (medicine, food, arms, etc.). The civil society is stronger than it ever been.
We are all feeling guilty from time to time because we’re “not doing enough” to stop this war. But we help each other to channel anger and frustration into action. In general, it seems to me that the world has overestimated Russian army and Putin’s regime, while severely underestimating Ukraine’s army and the power of people in Ukraine for many years.
The economic sanctions on Russia are huge and impacting their economy. They have been blocked by an enormous list of companies, including airlines, technical, and entertainment. Banks have felt the sanctions too, being disconnected from SWIFT and operations of Visa and Mastercard. Russian oligarchs have tasted bitter sanctions too. You can Google more detail on that.
You also need to understand that despite protests in biggest Russian cities, the gradual destruction of civil society, independent press, and dissemination of propaganda have made it so there are small chances of people uprising. There are millions of people who trust Russian army, who trust in the leadership of Putin and support war in Ukraine. The crisis unfolding in front of our eyes is even bigger than the war on Ukraine.
Which brings me to this last point. You need to understand that asking nicely and calling for diplomatic solutions won’t do it. You might understand it already, but I will give some examples.
Russia’s ex-president Dmitri Medvedev a few days ago tweeted that France should be careful with their “economic war” on Russia, because history teaches us that “economic wars often become real ones”.
Around the talks on NATO closing the Ukrainian sky, Putin openly said that any country helping Ukraine to close the sky will be considered as an aggressor in regards to Russia.
Russia had occupied many parts of EECCA countries before starting full-scale war in Ukraine. Moldova and Georgia have Russian troops on their occupied territories which also can be activated. Belarus has been almost [absorbed] into Russia and now is being used as a platform for Russian army to fire rockets on our cities.
The idea that Putin will stop his ambition at Ukraine is not true, but we are the first country who had enough power to fight back effectively. This is why it is a historic moment for all of us, in which all support from democratic countries must go to Ukraine.
The Demands of Ukrainian Civil Society
Despite having to relocate with nothing but backpacks, worrying about our friend and families, spending nights in basements and getting used to air attack sirens, Ukrainians are continuing to advocate.
• One of the first asks we’ve put out as civil society was to ensure Ukraine joins ENTSO-E as fast as possible. We’re still working in an isolated power grid since February 23 and the technical proсess of joining European power system has already started.
• Our second big call is to end global fossil fuel addiction that feeds Putin’s war machine. It is still up for signing.
• Another position was connected to nuclear safety and the fact that Russia first occupied and then shelled a nuclear power plant. Here, my colleagues stress that closing the sky over Ukraine will not only save civilians from bombs, but will also ensure that we as a continent do not spiral into a complete nuclear disaster. Of course, our sky is not being closed because of fear for a different kind of nuclear disaster—nuclear weapons.
• You can watch a press briefing we did on Wednesday, March 2 where my colleagues and I talk about the above-mentioned demands.
My Own Conclusions
This war has shown that the real power lies not in the number of soldiers you have, but in the strength of your civil society. I cannot stress enough how crucial it is to fight for a more open society, to organize people, to teach them how to organize themselves and stop any signs of oppression while it’s not too late.
I can tell you so many examples from the EECCA region when the intelligent people who value freedom had to leave the country and the people who were left in the country did not manage to make things better. Oppression, law limitations, corruption, financial difficulties, censorship—I can name many more things in which the civil society in many countries of EECCA live for a long time. In these days I’m really honoured to have worked on strengthening civil society’s voices and hope our work has made a difference.
This war has also revealed how unprepared we are for real climate action. If EU still depends heavily on fossil fuels, what can we say about other countries, which have much weaker climate policy? We will never be out of crisis if we still rely on fossil fuels and nuclear for our future energy. I think that I don’t need to defend this point to you, just wanted to stress it once again.
My Call(s) to Action for You
Thank you for reading till the end.
• This is already a call to action in itself—spend time reading about the war in Ukraine, it is not stopping yet and I know it is hard to keep track, but please take some time to follow the independent media and get informed.
• Use your voice and your platform to openly condemn Russian war against Ukraine. Don’t blame Putin for all of this, saying that it’s Putin’s war. Unfortunately the regime stands on the backs of many-many people, including the ones walking around my country right now killing people and the ones giving them orders to shoot at nuclear power plant. The international support so far has been amazing, but we need to keep stepping it up.
• Help Ukrainians refugees get a job, shelter, or help fund humanitarian supplies. Donate to our fund Come back alive, which supports Ukrainian army. More ways to help here.
• Send letters to your government about stopping Russian fossil fuel dependency and use this message in your advocacy campaigns on fossil fuel business.
• If you organize an event touching upon war in Ukraine, be it a panel or a press briefing, please invite Ukrainians! I’ve seen quite a few events discussing implications for energy security due to this war with not even one person from Ukraine. Our network can help you reach out to the right people.
• Call for aviation and other military supplies for Ukraine. It is, I will be very honest, devastating to read some of our colleagues’ statements where they urge other countries not to help Ukraine with military supplies, because it will develop the conflict further. This is one of the reasons I’m writing this letter in the first place. This is war. The war is where you pick sides (even Switzerland did). So we ask for help.
• Develop civil society in your country like your life depends on it.
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