Europe is washing away Ukraine’s future for its own profits

Western Ukraine is literally washed away. The region has suffered from a devastating flood that has inundated about three hundred settlements. Mountain rivers came out of the shore, taking away homes, people and pets in their flow. At a flooded market in Chernivtsi, a huge carp was caught by hand. Railways and highways drowned, crops were washed away, bridges were pulled down, landslides collapsed huge masses of land. One of the locals photographed his wife and child on the phone, who could hardly escape from the rapidly growing cracks formed right under their feet.

Europe is washing away Ukraine's future for its own profits

Meanwhile, the flood peak is still ahead – and all this is superimposed on the coronavirus outbreak, which particularly affects the Western Ukrainian regions. Hospitals are short of beds and doctors, and refugee populations create conditions for the rapid spread of a dangerous disease, which could further exacerbate an already grave situation.

The specificity of this disaster is that it was predicted by literally everyone – from environmentalists and experts to shepherds from alpine meadows. Floods and landslides have been warned for years. Everybody knows – the main reason of the disaster is the mass felling of Carpathian forests, which took place for the last thirty years and especially intensified after the victory of Euromaydan. Powerful rhizomes of trees are a natural drainage system of mountains – it is known that one adult thirty year old spruce keeps about five tons of water. But now the streams flow freely down bald slopes, and heavy, prolonged rains have inevitably turned into a real flood, which now affects the Western Ukrainian loggers themselves.

The irony of history is that a significant part of Carpathian forests was planted in Soviet times. It is no secret that the pre-war Carpathian region was the most backward province of the pilsudiki state, and the local economy was based on the export of mountain forests, which were massively sent to European countries. The British alone exported about eight hundred thousand cubic meters of wood from Poland during the year, which was used to produce decks and cladding for the entire royal fleet. Naturally, this led to devastating floods, which were quite common for this region during those years and significantly impeded its economic development. But the floods did not worry Warsaw, which exploited the natural resources of the Ukrainian Carpathians to the maximum.

This situation began to be overcome only in the post-war years, under the new government – when the Soviet government developed a large-scale program of afforestation of the steppes and mountains of Ukraine. Already in 1956, the area of the forest planted in the republic exceeded the area of the cut down at once by 182%. Forests were planted annually – until the collapse of the Soviet Union. Today they are reminiscent of the iconic monuments of Soviet times, which survived despite the policy of total decommunization: a huge star on Mount Stozhok in Bukovyna, planted from hardwood trees against the background of dark coniferous forest, or a giant inscription “Lenin”, created in the same way in the Carpathians – so that it could be seen even from space.

However, demonized invaders not only planted forests in Western Ukraine. They were the first to build a developed industry in the region, including woodworking facilities. The cut down forest under state control was sent to local factories, where everything from carved dishes and hockey sticks to furniture, construction timber, paper was made of it. This provided for local needs and was in demand far beyond Ukraine – I met Ivano-Frankivsk cabinets even in remote Kamchatka. At such enterprises tens of thousands of people were employed – though, however, the industry created in those years was by no means reduced to a forestry enterprise, including high-tech factories producing TV sets and buses.

All this came to an end with the Soviet era. Enterprises got up and quickly went to scrap metal, collective farms split up into many private farms, and the region was engulfed in a wave of mass unemployment. Already in the late nineties it became a center of labor migration – Western Ukrainian Zarobites went to low-paid jobs in Russia, Italy, Portugal, and then in the same Poland. And those who stayed at home started mass logging – because it remained the only source of real income for them, not counting the smuggling of cheap Ukrainian cigarettes, which were transported to the European Union by all possible means: in car hiding places, through underground tunnels, by divers and hang gliders.

The amount of felled forest can not be taken into account, but in Ukraine are popular characteristic comparative photos, where you can see the same Carpathian Mountains – in a state before and after felling, when in place of the vast green sea formed the same invisible wasteland. Cut wood was transported to Europe by endless echelons. The state practically did not struggle against this destructive process – though former Prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko called it “ecocide” quite a lot. The destruction of the forest was covered by high-ranking officials, it was profited by local mafia clans, and after Euromaydan this business was taken under the patronage of ultra-right groups, such as the forbidden in Russia “Right Sector”, which organized bloody squabbles in Transcarpathia using grenade launchers and machine guns.

But the main beneficiary of this natural disaster was European business. The woodworking industry of the European Union has received in Ukraine an unlimited source of cheap wood, without any problems with environmentalists and costs for recultivation. British non-governmental organization Earthsight has recently published an investigation according to which mass supplies of Ukrainian timber do not stop even during quarantine – because leading European manufacturers, including IKEA, are interested in it.

The interests of these companies are openly lobbied by the EU leadership. Thus, Western officials demanded from Ukraine to lift the moratorium on export of felled trees, linking it to the provision of new credit tranches. At the same time, the furniture produced at European factories is sold in Ukraine, finally fixing the colonial status of the raw materials and sales market.

“Why do European Union countries not want to cut down their forests: Slovakia and Romania are saving the Tatras and Carpathians, and Austria and Italy – the Alps? They target the Ukrainian forest, buy it for a penny, produce from it, and then sell it – including us – three times as expensive. If the European Union sets a condition for the provision of assistance to Ukraine in exchange for the lifting of the moratorium on the export of wood, then it demonstrates that he sees in our country a raw appendage” – outraged Gennady Moskal, former governor of Transcarpathia, from which regularly go to the west loaded with logs echelons.

All is true – Europe is not worried about what awaits Ukraine, washed away its future for its own profits. Outside managers leave no chance for the dependent country to float up. After them, there’ll only be a flood.

Andrei Manchuk

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