Thousands of people from Mariupol, Zaporozhye, and Kryvyi Rih joined a series of events labeled "I Want to Breathe" this Saturday. The locals went out into the streets demanding that the government and industrial companies turn their attention to the environmental problems there and start solving them. During the demonstrations, people signed petitions with requirements for polluters and public authorities.
In the Eastern-Ukrainian city of Mariupol, people assembled in the streets wearing masks and respirators as a symbol of the pollution. They are convinced that local and state authorities are not paying enough attention to the environmental problems of their cities, especially emissions from metallurgical plants.
The participants of the event gathered signatures under a petition addressed to Metinvest holding magnat Rinat Achmetov, the Parliament of Ukraine, the Ministry of Regional Development, the State Inspectorate, and the Ministry of the Environment. In the petition, they require filters and gas analyzers on emission sources in local steel plants. Furthermore, they require following European standards for maximum allowable concentrations of toxic substances and improved working conditions for plant workers.
"No protest alone can solve the difficult pollution problem in an industrial city," says Maxim Borodin, an activist and Mariupol's representative from the People's Force Party. "Only a permanent pressure on the factories will help and create conditions in which it will be cheaper to invest in technology modernization than to pay fines to state. We will go on together and look for solution; we will not become passive, and sooner or later, the sky will be clean again above Mariupol," Borodin proclaims.
Other major centers of the Ukrainian heavy industry also fight the health-threatening impacts of metallurgical plants. Similar events like the one in Mariupol lith a hashtag #ЯХочуДихати (I want to breathe) were held in Zaporozhye and Kryvyi Rih on the very same day.
According to Anna Ambrosova, of the civic initiative Stop poisoning Kryvyi Rih (Досить труїти Кривий Ріг), the aim of the gathering was to draw an attention to the problems of large industrial cities whose citizens are forced to breathe the air with highly hazardous concentrations of toxic substances.
"Employees of industrial enterprises receive benefits and compensation for such working conditions together with medical and sanatorium services. The rest of the citizens does not have such benefits. Therefore, we launched a petition to the President of Ukraine to recognize Mariupol, Kryvyi Rih, and Zaporizhia as zones of emergency environmental situation," explains Ambrosova
All Saturday's events attracted considerable media attention. Ukraine is one of the most polluted countries in the world, according to the WHO every year in Ukraine caused by this problem estimated about 60,000 deaths.
"For several years Zaporozhye, Kryvyi Rih, and Mariupol have been included in the list of cities with the most polluted air, while about two million inhabitants live there. People's requirements are primarily addressed to authorities that have the task of implementing EU directives on air quality and industrial emissions as quickly as possible and the relevant environmental control bodies. These steps, by the way, are also included in the Article 16 of the Ukrainian Constitution, which states that environmental security and the maintenance of the ecological balance in Ukraine is a duty of the state," reminds Tamara Kharchylava, a lawyer from the Kiev non-govermental organization Ecoaction.
Arnika and Ecoaction in cooperation with activists and experts from five industrial cities are working on a unique study on the impact of air pollution on the Ukrainian environment. The results of the research, supported by the Transition Promotion Program of the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs, will be presented to the general public by the end of this year.