Ecocidal corporations lining up to profit from Ukraine’s reconstruction spells deeper environmental disaster

A shameful lack of Ukrainian civil society involved in Ukraine’s recovery planning means disaster capitalism going unchecked.

When we talk about rebuilding our country, Ukrainians envisage a place where communities and environment thrive, free from the shackles of Russia’s political influence and oligarchy.

For me as a Ukrainian girl who grew up through the turmoil and discontent with the Russian-backed government of the late 2000s, and the Revolution of Dignity of 2014 alongside the cultural revolution that followed, this vision of my country is firmly imprinted in my Ukrainian identity.

For centuries, Russian colonialism, including the last 9 years of war, has undermined our social and economic development. Right now, our invaluable land full of unique biodiversity hotspots is not only being exploited, but directly destroyed. Like our people, it is being drowned, bombed, and burned.

Meanwhile, even amidst accounting for the human suffering and ecocide, we see that the recovery of Ukraine has already begun. There are some ambitious reform plans by government to ensure we are ready to kickstart a transformation after a Ukrainian victory.

But leading the way are community initiatives that are setting the precedent for rebuilding not just what was, but what will become a nation that puts, above all, justice for ordinary people resisting erasure by a terrorist state.

While fighting to take back our territories, Ukraine is also at the dawn of an era of hope, powerful enough to reimagine every sector of the economy, from agriculture to energy.

The reality is that building a new Ukraine from the ashes will require unprecedented investment and continuing unwavering support of our allies. The UK government positions itself as a strong ally in defence, some Ukrainians even going as far as becoming huge fans of Boris Johnson (or as he is known humorously in Ukraine, Johnsoniuk) despite lingering scandal in British Parliament.

The Conservative government hoped to reaffirm this position by hosting the Ukraine Recovery Conference in London together with Ukraine, held a month ago from the 21st to the 22nd of June. It convened the international public and private sector but was “keen to see the private sector play a leading role”, with civil society organisations side-lined to one official side event happening the day before the conference.

The Ukraine Recovery Conference may have led discussions about distant labour force rehabilitation plans and greener infrastructure solutions. What the organisers missed out on by focusing on private sector leadership, however, is the expertise of communities on the ground. While living with a daily risk of Russian missile attacks, they are showing what successful investment in transformation for a more just, sustainable future should look like.

There is Slavutych, a northern town housing the workers of Chornobyl that thanks to maintaining a pioneering solar energy cooperative started before full-scale war, was able to survive 30 days of Russian occupation while energy supply was cut. Hospitals in the town of Zviagel will save 13 000 euros per year towards new medical equipment and avoid blackouts that threaten to shut down patients’ life support, because in the past year, civil society came together to install a complex of 60 solar panels.

EU integration is undoubtedly centre stage of recovery discussions. This means Ukraine will have to step up on adoption of a whole host of quality and environmental standards, including to upscale renewable energy. But in EU legislation, we find loopholes for infiltration by profit-driven fossil fuel multinationals, like in the EU investment taxonomy, which classifies natural gas extraction as a sustainable, climate-friendly investment.

Criticised by climate campaigners and European climate ministers alike, such loopholes signal to the Ukrainian government that allowing investment in fossil fuels can be part of recovery. This is when we know perfectly well from the world’s top climate scientists and policy analysts that the fossil fuel industry can only mean environmental wreckage, pollution, and deteriorating living standards.

Russia has committed thousands of war crimes in peaceful Ukraine using funds from a federal budget, 40% of which is paid for by fossil fuel exports. The EU has paid 156 billion euros towards this since the full-scale invasion began because of how deeply rooted Europe’s fossil fuel dependence is.

It therefore borders on absurdity that Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Halliburton, three fossil fuel giants that have been taken to court over environmental crimes, have held talks with Ukraine’s state energy company, Naftogaz, to discuss growing their presence in the country. This aligns with the government’s climate-careless strategy to expand domestic natural gas production even in wartime.

It’s as though Naftogaz has already forgotten that these very corporations have made 134 billion dollars in excess profits over the first year of full-scale war. They are raking in record earnings on the back of price hikes stemming from an energy crisis and the suffering of millions. On top of this, Halliburton has been long associated with corruption and making billions by supplying the US military during the Iraq war.

The announcement that asset managers BlackRock and JP Morgan Chase will be those setting up the Ukraine recovery investment bank, the Fund for the Development of Ukraine, is another blow for the future of our already ravaged environment. It is said that climate will be one of the priorities for private investments to be attracted through the fund. However, I cannot help being sceptical, to say the least, that firms that are leading investors in fossil fuels will be likely to suddenly start keeping to their greenwashing commitments.

Ukraine and those wanting to be allies by harnessing international investment must realise that they are doing this not in the interest of fund managers and climate-wrecking corporations. Paying into prolonging already years-long destruction of a country fighting to protect Europe from a terrorist neighbour on a daily basis is a stab in the back for Ukrainian defenders. What are they fighting for, if the future of their children increasingly lies in the hands of capitalist profiteers?

Ukraine’s leadership still has a chance to turn this around, with a third of the projects included in the National Recovery Plan presented in London considered green according to a new University of Oxford report. To ensure a green transition to a future that is worth fighting for, locally led initiatives need to be given the recognition they deserve, with the direct funding to materialise our collective vision of a cleaner, community-owned reconstruction.

Viktoriya Ball is a British-Ukrainian climate and health justice activist based in England. She is an active member of the Fridays For Future Ukraine youth climate movement, with whom she has actively campaigned for an embargo on Russian fossil fuels. After completing her master’s in International Health at the University of Leeds, she has embarked on a new climate project, Rozviy Initiative, aiming to promote youth engagement in Ukrainian just transition policy.