Eco-Dnepr: How a youth movement is rewiring a post-soviet industrial city in a 2.0 fashion

While Ukraine hits the news with images of violent clashes between police forces and anti-government protesters, there is a story you haven’t yet heard about. In one-million inhabitant Dnipropetrovsk, former glory of Soviet Union nuclear, arms and space industries, hundreds of connected young people are exposing widespread industrial pollutions and cleaning up the place themselves.

The story starts in July 2012. Environmental activist Volodymyr Goncharenko, 57,  gives a press conference where he reveals that 180 tons of toxic chemical and radioactive industrial waste was illegally stored in the town of Kryvyi Rih (Dnipropetrovsk area). Four days later, he is brutally beaten up and dies from his injuries in hospital. In spite of the strong mobilization of activists calling for an investigation, the case is quickly closed. Corruption had worked its way.

While Goncharenko’s murders must have wanted to seal the mouth of Dnipropetrovsk citizens, they did the reverse. In the weeks that followed dozens of young people gather and create a new ecologist movement to continue the work of the dead man: Eco-Dnepr is born and actions are soon mushrooming.

Photo marathon

Exposing pollution

A photo marathon Dnipropetrovsk is launched. Young people are asked to take pictures of them wearing gas masks and national folkloric clothes in public space and the photos are combined with facts exposing local pollution and then spread over social networks. In a city that is one of the largest industrial centre of Ukraine, Eco-Dnepr becomes the local relay of the national campaign “Let’s clean up Ukraine” and gathers hundreds who regularly meet to collect trash. But the young activists wanted to go further and engage normal citizens.

Pacing up, they launch in June 2013the “Give up your batteries” project aims at covering the city with battery recuperation points and send them to a treatment plant in Lviv. The initiative meets popular support and is set to be scaled up at national level soon. Once the batteries issues addressed, activists of Eco-Dnepr realize there is much to do for waste recycling in their city.


Getting recycling to work

Waste is generally collected in bulk, but some scattered recycling points do exist. People just don’t know about as scarce information is available. While a few committed citizens are ready to separate their rubbish they come short of being able to dispose it correctly. As digital natives, the solution imposes itself in the mind of Alexey Malevaniy, Lubov Kolosovskaya, and Nikita Yakimenko, they build up an online map where all collection points available in the city are carefully located thanks to bike scouting expeditions who are sent roaming the city to find recycling points. To complete the task the map is getting collaborative for anyone to be able to input new locations in it.

Getting to the next level

And as the youth movement gets things done it attracts new people with new ideas. Soon each Satruday artists and creative people meet at the ReCreate events giving a new life to discarded stuff. One of the last feats of Eco-Dnepr was to organize a Climate Week in a country where few are giving attention to global warming. Against all odds, the event gathered 500 attending over lectures and talks shows, concerts, exhibitions.

In less than two years, one step at a time, with no resources but their cunning, Eco-Dnepr and the local youth have started to change in their city the whole perception of the environmental challenge, from exposing local pollution to start recycling,  and connecting local challenges to global ones such as climate change. And they’ve just started!

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Written by Nadiia Koval and Adrien Labaeye

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