By Alison Reiszadeh

The Christmas season is striking Kyiv, the streets have become illuminated with colorful strands of lights and the air is filled with the smell of delicious Ukrainian delicacies. The market serves as a wonderful place for people to visit and explore after a long day of work. You can find brilliantly handcrafted gifts, from mugs and tea sets to traditional Ukrainian vyshyvanka.

Although the markets have been great to visit, one can’t help but notice the extremely unusual weather for this time of year in Kyiv. If you ask any local resident here, they will be the first to tell you of the bizarre change in temperature.

This makes me think of the work we are doing at UNDP, and how seriously we need to be addressing climate change. The UNDP Ukraine Accelerator lab team is putting a strong emphasis on the environment, from tackling the air quality crisis to utilizing nature-based solutions to make cities more sustainable.

Moving forward, our next big project will explore solutions to improve the environmental quality in eastern Ukraine, specifically in the Donbass region. The Donbass is a region dominated by heavy industry, in particular coal mining, chemical processing sites and metallurgy. Intensive mining and steel smelting created substantial environmental damage prior to the armed conflict. However, the fighting in eastern Ukraine has exacerbated an already fragile ecological situation, introducing a range of new risks such as interconnected mines being flooded and poisoning the water throughout the region.

UNDP Ukraine Accelerator Lab team believes that it is better to cooperate than to compete to solve these kinds of issues. For example, in October of 2019 the Lab organized a two-day City Safari, which was attended by more than 200 participants. On the first day, participants were introduced to the basics of biomimicry and considered solutions from nature. The next day, the groups set off on an expedition to a Kyiv safari, exploring the city’s pressing problems, such as floods, air pollution, limited access to clean water and green areas. Urban Safari participants presented their nature solutions and are refining their ideas now, and soon they will be conducting experimental testing in their communities.

We are now currently developing a City Safari tool kit. This tool kit will serve as a functional guide to help other cities across Ukraine replicate the UNDP event and run their own experiments for nature-based solutions. It is important to share our knowledge and share what works!

Overall, my time here in Ukraine has been really enriching. For example, for the past few months myself and another colleague created a weekly learning club for kids called “SDGs4Kids”. Each week we create lesson plans that focus on one of the sustainable development goals. We try to make the lessons as relatable as possible. The United Nations is trying to mainstream the sustainable development goals into policy; education is one of the best ways to make that happen. It has been really rewarding getting the kids excited about making the world a better place and becoming leaders in their own community.

Additionally, there are always interesting and informative events taking place such as the “women’s participation in policy and decision making” where female activist and politicians shared their experiences of taking on leadership roles in the country. The topic of discussion was centered around the growth and acceptance that still needs to take place within the country.

Although I have been here for just three months and just passed the halfway point of living in Ukraine, one key takeaway I have come to admire, is the passion Ukrainians have for their country and the drive they possess to improve upon its progress.

  • Picture of Alison Blay-Palmer

    Dr. Blay-Palmer is the founding Director for the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems, Director of the Viessmann European Research Centre…