ECE-RCEM RFSD2022 – Opening speech

By Svitlana Slesarenok, Black Sea Women’s Club, Ukraine

Dear colleagues of civil society, dear Executive Director Algayerova, I am Svitlana Slesarenok, an environmental expert and activist from the NGO Black Sea Women Club, Ukraine. It is an honour to give the opening speech for today’s civil society forum on Sustainable Development. The Stockholm Declaration adopted in 1972 by the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment was the first document to recognize the interconnections between development, poverty, and the environment.

Fifty years since Stockholm, the global community has worked a lot for developing a common understanding and the instruments to achieve a healthier planet and prosperity for all. Our planet faces increasing environmental challenges and growing inequality affecting development and wellbeing, but now at least we have some important instruments, such as the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, adopted by all governments in 2015.

This year we are specifically looking at progress on the SDG 4 on education, SDG 5 on gender equality, SDG 14 on seas and oceans, SDG 15 on forest and biodiversity and SDG 17 on partnerships and implementation. We were seeing some real progress in our region. We were working with environmental and climate experts from all over the former Soviet Union on renewable energy to address climate change, on protection of our seas and our biodiversity.

And then, on the 24th of February 2022, Russia started a war against my country, the sovereign state of Ukraine, reversing progress on the 2030 Agenda, endangering world peace, food security and sustainability, resulting in millions of refugees and thousands of dead and injured. Now, when I am asked to talk about the Sustainable Development Goals, I say:

SDG14? I have worked on protection of the Black Sea for many years, but today, unfortunately, due to the war, addressing SDG14 in the countries from the Black Sea region means we must remove from the sea, unexploded mines and shipwrecks – destroyed by Russian missile ships. The Russians put 4200 mines in the black sea.

SDG 15? for Ukraine and neighboring countries today forest and biodiversity protection means dealing with the terrible pollution of water, soil, and air pollution from bombed-out oil storage facilities, the burning of bombed out roads, petrol stations, and other infrastructure.

In particular we are very worried about a number of forest fires in Chernobyl’s ‘red’ forest, as a result of the shootings, which has led to increased emissions of radioactivity. And we are in fear of the potential threat from Russian attacks and accidents at our other nuclear power plants. You might have seen the photos of the hundreds of brave citizens of Energodar City that stood in front of the Russian tanks to try and stop them from going to our biggest nuclear power plant of Zaporozhye. The daughter of my brother in law participated.

SDG5? for Ukraine today it means many many women and girls dead and sufferiing from rape, abuse and horrifying violence by Russian soldiers. The number of women in the army, which was already high, is now almost a quarter of the total army, 57.000 women soldiers, mostly young women. The doctors and nurses working partly in bombed-out hospitals and with a lack of medicines, many are women, like my daughter in law. These women stay in the war. Their children have to flee the country without their parents, like in our family, where I am now looking after my grandchildren. Me and my grandchildren, we are refugees in Romania.

SDG 4? for Ukraine today it means more than 211 schools have been bombed, destroyed…children are no longer going to schools, and many have died. According to the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine, as of March 30, 2022, 150 children were killed and more than 222 children were injured in Ukraine, but this is without counting the dead children in the occupied cities like Mariopol.

Many are refugees. 4 million refugees have left Ukraine, as of March 31, and we have about 6 to 12 million people who have been internally displaced. We fear maybe 5000 people have been killed in Mariupol, but the red has been refused access. You have probably seen the horrific photos this weekend from Bucha, where more than 400 civilians who were massacred. There is nothing more unsustainable for the planet than war and militarism. We might be close even to a nuclear war…

We must clearly and distinctly understand that this war is not a war only against Ukraine, it is a war against sustainable development of our planet, SDGs, humanity, and the common values we developed together these last 50 years.

They have stolen our dreams of sustainable development. The war is a crime against our common future, against our sustainable and inclusive future.

We need together to stop the war, respect and uphold international law, build peace and find a way how to protect our common values: for a healthy planet for the prosperity of all – this is our responsibility.

Thank you