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18 June, 2013

Rampant Environmental Crimes Point to de-Ukrainization

Two seemingly disjointed reports came one after another: swallows’ nests were intentionally destroyed in an amusement centre and one’s of Europe’s oldest chestnut trees was cut down in downtown Kyiv. What causes such offences and why the perpetrators are not likely to be punished?

The argument offered by the director of an amusement centre located in village Chubynske (Boryspil district, near Kyiv) was simple: the droppings of swallows befoul the asphalt and the walls of the building. The order was fulfilled and workers took down some 50 swallows’ nests. The fact that there were birdlings or eggs in them did not stop the ruination. The swallows darted here and there over the broken nests as they tried, in vain, to save their fledglings…

Prior to that, Kyivzelenbud workers cut down one of Europe’s oldest chestnut trees (over 150 years old) in Tereshchenkivska Street in downtown Kyiv. The tree had the status of a protected object and a plaque to that effect was attached to it. It was called the Voinstvensky Chestnut Tree after a professor who fought to protect natural environment. The operation was prompted by a crack that had appeared in the tree’s trunk. However, two weeks before that, environmentalists “healed” the tree by filling the crack and fixing the trunk with a special device. But neither the obvious fact that the problem had been resolved, not the protected status of the tree stopped Kyivzelenbud, and now what remains of a natural monument is a stump with – o tempora, o mores! – a plaque signifying its protected status…

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Both events would cause a nationwide scandal in a civilized state, but in Ukraine they went almost unnoticed by journalists, ranking officials and politicians. The National Ecological Centre seems to be a lone voice crying in the wilderness. According to environmentalists, crimes were committed in both cases. Oleksiy Vasyliuk, deputy head of the National Ecological Centre, said: “Ukraine is a signatory to the Bern Convention under which birds cannot be even scared during the mating season. We also have criminal responsibility for the cruel treatment of animals.” As far as the chestnut tree is concerned, “any actions with protected objects can only be performed upon approval by the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources… This was a case of unauthorized destruction of a protected object.” Vasyliuk further explained that the tree could only have been cut down after environmental services submitted a decision to this effect and it was put to a vote at a session of the Kyiv City Council. However, this procedure was not undertaken. “The destruction or even damageme of a protected natural object is a criminal offence and is punishable under Article 252 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine. Thus, the National Ecological Centre appealed to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine with a request to open a criminal case over the destruction of the protected chestnut tree,” the expert said.

It will be interesting to see whether a case will be opened (to say nothing of taking it to court) in at least one of the two cases.

However, my point is not about the overall criminalization of nearly all authorities and business structures. I dare claim that the director of the amusement centre in Chubynsky is not Ukrainian, regardless of what his surname and background may be. I say this because Ukrainians know the beliefs and traditions associated with swallows. Since ancient times, swallows were among the most revered birds in the Ukrainian culture. According to popular beliefs, a swallow is a bird of God; God blessed it because when Christ was being crucified, swallows stole some of the nails. If a swallow makes a nest under someone’s roof, it is a sign of happiness for the family. But if someone disturbs its nest and kills its fledglings, the swallow will burn his house by bringing fire from the field and will additionally take away health and spoil the cattle.

I understand that we live in a time when nearly everyone and everything can be sold and bought, and for cheap at that, but if the director is not Ukrainian in his essence, then perhaps the workers (most certainly, from that same village) could preserve at least something Ukrainian and human in themselves? Or are they the kind of Little Russians who can sell not only their souls but also their parents for a piece of rotten sausage?

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And who are the zealous workers of Kyivzelenbud? Have they, together with the Kyiv mayor, been dropped by parachute in the Ukrainian capital after thorough KGB training that turns a person into an executor of the most criminal orders and instructions? Were they indifferent to the fact that one of Kyiv’s most interesting objects and one of Europe’s oldest chestnut trees was about to be destroyed? After all, they work for zelenbud (literally, green construction) rather than zelenruinatsiia (literally, green destruction) and in the capital city of Ukraine rather than some wild, remote place.

However, it appears that to them, Kyiv is just a territory rather than an integral eco-social organism in which everything has its significance and everything should be treated with respect.

Thus, in this way or another, these wild recent cases (anyone who keeps track of how environment and Ukraine’s natural and cultural monuments are being destroyed can add plenty of other examples) point to the rapid and successful de-Ukrainization of Ukrainians even in and around the capital. The absence of sociocultural taboos in both managers at various levels and employees (these taboos are always formed within certain national cultures, their traditions and mental attitudes) is a threat, above all, not to swallows and chestnut trees, but to other people, and even more so to the very objects of de-Ukrainization. They are doomed to being the serfs and slaves – sometimes quite rich, but more often poor and without any rights – of “industrial tycoons”, “agricultural magnates” and “trade barons” who, regardless of what their birth certificates say, belong to the semi-criminal, semi-Soviet community which was formed in the vast expanses of the former USSR and today wants to legalize itself in the form of the “Russian world”. So we will hear many more times about birds being destroyed and protected trees being cut down, about people in the streets being killed by rich kids, about residents of well-situated buildings being tossed out into the street, about the degradation of science and education and so on – until the process of de-Ukrainization of Ukraine is terminated and the project of building a new country and state is launched.

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