The Kyiv thickets

Unable to shake my caffeine buzz after finishing a thesis chapter within the early hours of the morning, I as soon as walked from Podil – Kyiv’s previous centre, the place I lived – to Vyrlytsia Lake.

I left my condominium at round 5am because the morning solar was nonetheless burning by way of the dewy ambiance. I headed straight for the river, the place the thrill of mosquitoes was audible within the morning solace.

Crossing the Dnipro over Paton Bridge, I touched down on the left financial institution and walked randomly in a daze for a pair extra hours, plodding by way of residential districts.

Regardless of wanting uniform and repetitive, they continue to be endlessly fascinating resulting from the unusual architectural modifications residents are constantly making to them.

Finally, I got here to the top of the concrete jungle, crossed a motorway, and located myself an enormous expanse of water. My unintended vacation spot had arrived. Later, I’d discover out its identify. 

“Kyiv is a concrete block,” says Anastasiia Hmyrianska, an activist from Kyiv who leads the marketing campaign to guard Vyrlytsia Lake from growth. “This makes it troublesome for birds to fly over with out getting exhausted.”

The Dnipro River is an ecological hall of worldwide significance, facilitating the migration of a number of species from Scandinavia and northern Russia to the south.

The lake I’d spontaneously stumbled upon whereas drifting by way of the town that morning turned out to be one of many few migration stopovers left the place these superb avian vacationers can relaxation their weary wings.

Hmyrianska tells me that it’s additionally an important nesting place and a stop-over for uncommon migratory birds.

Yearly, Kyiv’s largest colony of black-headed gulls makes its dwelling right here, amongst over 60 different chicken species which can be protected by the Bonn and Bern Conventions.

Between 2016 and 2021, ornithologist Natalya Atamas recorded the presence of the red-necked grebe, little tern, peregrine falcon, and black-tailed godwit along with many others. 

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The range of habitats in Kyiv, particularly on the banks of the Dnipro, is kind of astonishing. Osokorky, for instance, hosts six completely different habitat varieties together with reservoirs, floodplains, swamps, shrub, and forest, and is dwelling to 170 chicken species in addition to a number of species within the crimson guide of Ukraine, just like the emperor dragonfly and the northern crested newt.

Different areas, like Zhukiv island and Koncha-Zaspa present a glimpse again in time in accordance with ecologist Oleksiy Vasyliuk, “displaying what the banks of the Dnipro regarded like earlier than anthropogenic disturbance.”

However not all of the Kyiv thickets resemble “pristine” or “untouched” pure habitats, not that the phrases “pristine” or “untouched” are helpful for environmentalism within the up to date period.

Following the deindustrialisation of the Nineteen Nineties, nature started to spontaneously emerge amidst emptying inexperienced and brownfield websites. For the reason that financial rebound of the 2000s, nonetheless, the thickets have come below menace from industrial and residential growth – spheres which stay steeped in corruption all through Ukraine.

Like different marginal, seemingly deserted, or unused city areas, builders typically view the Kyiv thickets as wastelands. However there may be nothing wasteful about these areas. Certainly, ‘wasteland’ serves solely as a handy descriptor for jackpot-eyed builders who see the thickets as wasted alternatives to be cashed in on. 

PROTECTING THE THICKETS

Kyiv’s inexperienced areas are the topic of a number of nationwide and municipal legal guidelines, however the laws defending them is restricted and infrequently enforced, whereas there may be “an absence of liability for breaching the rules.”

Most of the Kyiv thickets are merely not on the map, making them ‘susceptible’ within the phrases of Nastya Kuzmenko and Yaroslava Kovalchuk, the editors of Green Kyiv, a vital journey information to Kyiv’s city natures.

But regardless of this floundering authorized system and entrenched corruption, makes an attempt to develop Kyiv’s thickets and inexperienced zones are met with sturdy opposition by a energetic group of Kyivan activists.

Save Horbachykha’, for instance, is an organised collective that protects Horbachykha, a thicket on the left financial institution of the Dnipro, which is a part of the Dnipro ecological hall and residential to myriad endangered and guarded species of natural world, together with the Eurasian beaver and Eurasian otter.

Cultural and environmental teams have recurrently come collectively to defend the thickets. At Horbachykha, the Biorhythm group of sound artists and musicians labored with ‘Save Horbachykha’ to provide a soundscape used for defending the area from development.

Between 2001 and 2014, there have been greater than 300 activist teams defending inexperienced areas in Kyiv alone. These have been typically native curiosity teams, largely unorganised, and “primarily bothered by the prospect of the eyesore brought on by new constructing developments outdoors their bed room home windows,” in accordance with Vasyliuk.

Over time, nonetheless, the activist group has professionalised, concentrating into fewer however extra highly effective teams who’re savvy with authorized issues, and know the way to converse with lawmakers and metropolis officers.

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Half-ski complicated, part-urban forested ravine, Protasiv Yar is a inexperienced area in downtown Kyiv which has been loyally defended by native residents from growth for round 18 years.

Essentially the most distinguished defender of the location was Roman Ratushnyi. A born-and-bred Kyivan, he turned an influential activist at 16 throughout the Revolution of Dignity, in addition to a key participant within the ‘March for Kyiv’, which united 40 activist organisations with environmental, academic, metropolis planning, and growth issues to demand a greater, extra simply Kyiv.

Ratushnyi based the NGO ‘Let’s Save Protasiv Yar’ in 2019 after the town authorities illegally offered a allow to develop the location he’d cherished since childhood.

Having gone to legislation faculty, Ratushnyi was emblematic of the brand new period of Ukrainian activists able to defending themselves in courtroom, fluent within the language wanted to barter with these in energy, and vigorously towards all types of corruption. In 2021, Protasiv Yar was designated a green zone that might not be constructed on. His marketing campaign was profitable.

On 9 June 2022, Ratushnyi was killed defending Ukraine from Russian invaders close to Izyum in Ukraine’s east. He was 24 years previous. His dying despatched shockwaves by way of Ukraine’s activist group. Kyivans got here out en masse to mourn his dying.

Ratushnyi’s legacy is certain to achieve far past Protasiv Yar. His life’s work is already inspiring others to try for a fairer, extra democratic, and free Ukraine, whereas by way of Protasiv Yar, he has ensured that Kyivans are in a position to wander by way of and luxuriate in their metropolis’s historic thickets. 

COUNTERCULTURAL THICKETS

The easiest way to inhabit a metropolis is to dérive. My first time in Berlin concerned spontaneously climbing by way of a gap in a fence out of frustration brought on by my failure to take the precise U-Bahn twice in a row, which led to me abandoning my plans for the day.

By the fence, I entered a small wooden, wandered previous a set of comfy-looking-but-damp couches organized in a circle, earlier than panicking – actually – that I’d damaged into an airport, which I later came upon was Tempelhof Discipline. That is additionally how I discovered Хащі – Hashchi – in Kyiv.

Hashchi is the direct Ukrainian translation of thickets, however has additionally come to designate one explicit thicket. Tucked away in a forested space amongst a fancy of garages, Hashchi is a self-organised group area within the centre of Kyiv that emerged round 2014.

Set amidst a 19th Century avenue that was deserted and brought over by nature, the human group there depends on the forest for privateness.

Greater than this, although, Hashchi is situated amongst steep hills the place there’s a everlasting threat of landslides, making it comparatively unattractive to builders. To get there, it’s essential to do “a bit little bit of parkour,” Oleksiy Radynski, a filmmaker and author based mostly in Kyiv, tells me.

Radynski, who has spent the final eight years as a part of the Hashchi group, describes the area as “a spot the place many subcultures meet.”

Radynski’s 2016 documentary Landslide depicts a few of these subcultures; hanging out with Koptev – whose ‘trash trend reveals’ have been a daily hit at Hashchi – and Vova Vorotniov, a up to date artist based mostly in Kyiv, who’s a key member of Kyiv’s countercultural scene.

Vorotniov is a core member of ETC (which stands for varied issues, together with ‘erase the town’ and ‘benefit from the metropolis’). Radynski describes them as “a post-crew or meta-crew of graffiti artists.”

The group arranges graffiti workshops and sometimes opens a small tools store at Hashchi, or a minimum of did previous to the full-scale invasion.

Each tradition and nature emerge spontaneously at Hashchi, which normally has no deliberate programme of occasions. Hashchi is a protected area, Dmytro tells me, “sheltering folks from mainstream city practices.”

Radynski has by no means seen a violent incident there in his eight years visiting. However there are occasional clashes with the storage cooperative who don’t see eye-to-eye with the Hashchi group, in addition to police raids, that are depicted in Landslide. For that reason, Radynski describes Hashchi as “not a public area, however a hideout.”

Through the warfare, nonetheless, using this area, as with the opposite thickets, has modified. Radynski hardly goes to Hashchi anymore, reporting as a photographer and author from the Kyiv area, and curfews forestall folks from gathering at night time.

FUTURE THICKETS

For Dmytro, the thickets are “uncontrolled zones which no person owns; between the cracks of neoliberal area, constructed from each Ukraine’s independence epoch, and its Soviet heritage.”

Their sophisticated authorized standing – typically successfully none – means they’re continually in limbo, and the town pretends they don’t exist.

However it’s clear that human and nonhuman communities depend upon one another within the thickets. Like different cities around the globe, as Kyiv begins to feel the effects of global warming, the thickets play a job in regulating temperature, filtering mud from the air, retaining atmospheric moisture, and absorbing carbon dioxide.

These are key elements that can enhance Kyiv’s resilience in a warming and weirding world, particularly because it continues to be the world’s most polluted capital. Hmyrianska describes the thickets because the “lungs of the town,” whereas Vyrlytsia Lake is named the ‘air conditioner of Kyiv’.

Since 24 February 2022, nonetheless, the way forward for the thickets is now extra unsure than ever. As we speak, as individuals are compelled to flee Russian invaders within the frontline areas of Ukraine, elevated development to dwelling the displaced is probably going in Ukrainian cities.

Since 2014, many members of Ukraine’s activist group, like Ratushnyi, have died preventing Russian invaders within the east, or been victims of focused Russian aggression.

A number of activist tasks and workshops have been placed on maintain as these communities are compelled to reorient their efforts in direction of supporting Ukraine’s frontline forces and folks injured or displaced by warfare.

As soon as areas of refuge and leisure, many thickets are actually booby-trapped all through the Kyiv area, having been heavily mined by retreating Russian invaders.

Instances of wildlife dying or changing into injured have been broadly reported. Whereas the Russians could have left the forests of Kyiv, nature has change into uncanny of their wake, remodeling how folks relate to those areas.

However the warfare is having sudden results, too. Vasyliuk tells me that scientists, unable to journey to their area websites each internationally and inside Ukraine, have taken to learning their native ecologies. Vasyliuk is encouraging his colleagues in Kyiv to publish their new analysis, hoping it can inform the safety of the Kyiv thickets sooner or later.

Whereas rebuilding Ukrainian cities broken by warfare, one problem shall be to view inexperienced and gray not in opposition, however as complementary and inseparable. From the Kyiv thickets, we’ve got a lot to study.

**

Reflecting on how the warfare has modified his relationship to the thickets, Dmytro drifted deep into a mirrored image on his household dwelling in Luhansk, which has been below Russian occupation since 2014.

“I’m wondering what it appears to be like like now, the way it’s been slowly reworked by nature through the years, and by different dwellers who got here to our empty constructing. I noticed some images in 2017 from my neighbours who take care of the home.

“They confirmed how our yard has been seized by wild grapes and timber. It’s a strategy of… not destruction, however reclamation. It’s necessary to present nature an opportunity to create one thing with this empty area.

“I’d wish to discover all this: the bugs and animals, and the brand new species which have arrived – the brand new dwellers. I’m making an attempt to think about the second after de-occupation, after I’ll go to the locations of my childhood and see these new thickets, hopefully within the inexperienced season, spring, or summer time. When it’s doable, after our victory, we’ll see the thickets at our place collectively.”

This Writer

Jonathon Turnbull is a cultural and environmental geographer on the College of Cambridge whose analysis explores nature restoration within the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone. He was a visiting researcher on the Nationwide College of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy from 2018-2021, and Ukraine Lab writing resident in 2022.

This text is revealed in partnership with Ukraine Lab.

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