#HerStoryOfChange – Natalia Kholodova and the case against Kronospan

As an ecofeminist network, we want to provide space for the stories of inspiring champions in the fields of gender equality and the fight against climate change and environmental pollution. We believe that a sustainable future and environment need feminist solutions reflecting the lives of people on the ground. That is why we work on transformative gender equality and women’s human rights in interconnection with sustainable development and climate justice.

One of these champions is Natalia Kholodova

Natalia is from Rivne, Ukraine. Starting from 2015, she has been working for the Ukrainian environmental public organization that has been fighting for nature protection for more than 20 years, called Ecoclub. She is  passionate about environmental science and protection, which has driven her to pursue it in her studies as well, and driven by a desire to save the environment she lives in. She dreams of a clean, green and safe city, since Rivne has plenty of natural areas needing to be taken care of and to be protected for the next generations to enjoy.

‘We need to protect the environment for ourselves and our children, because nature is resilient and can exist and recover even without human care. However, humans cannot exist and recover without nature.’

When she first joined Ecoclub as an intern-assistant she was mostly working on projects involving energy and climate. She was responsible for the communication with the local government, and the organization of educational tours and events for local people and the municipality departments on adaptation plans for climate change. She has also been involved in campaigns against potentially harmful companies to the local environment, like the woodworking enterprise Kronospan. Ecoclub, nowadays, has partners in most all the Ukrainian regions, and focuses on municipalities and villages’ level as well as on the national government. There is also ongoing collaboration with many other Ukrainian nature organizations with which they seldom develop projects.

The focus of Ecoclub is sustainable energy and adaptation to climate change. It started off as being an Anti-Nuclear Organization as a response to the Khmelnytskyi Nuclear Power Plant’s New Departments establishment. For many years, anti-nuclear activity was the priority, but then the aim started shifting to climate action. It was then that Ecoclub started working on energy efficiency, given Ukraine’s potential for energy conservation, followed by operation on the development of Sustainable Energy projects. This is the main focus area of the organization, accompanied, since 2020, by the evaluation of harmful impacts by companies through Environmental Impact Assessments.

The case against Kronospan

In 2019 Kronospan, a big Austrian corporation with more than 50 manufactories all around Europe, China and the US, planned to construct a woodworking factory near Rivne, so to process about 30% of wood of the entire country. In order to understand the impact of such a process, the local community asked Ecoclub to perform an analysis of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report of Kronospan, which is necessary for the construction to be confirmed.

Through the EIA report Ecoclub noticed many violations, exceeding the permitted level of dangerous substances, like formaldehyde. Such substance is carcinogen, hence cannot be present in a close distance to a natural area; Kronospan factory was planned to be built less than 10 km from the city centre and close to a natural recreation area. Thus, the EIA report showed that it was not safe to have a woodwork manufactory in that area. Ecoclub prepared the official evaluation to send it to the Department of Ecology of the Rivne Regional State Administration and published the article on their website and social networks. In return, Ecoclub received a court subpoena from Kronospan, including a monetary compensation of 150 000 UAH (around 4.500 EUR) for the cancellation of the evaluation. Local activists and the Head of the Sanitary and Epidemiological Service of Rivne received the same subpoenas for organizing protests or raising awareness about the enterprise’s harmful impact.

Ecoclub and the other local activists lost the first court session, applied for an appeal but, unfortunately, lost as well. In the meantime, Ecoclub hasn’t stopped protesting on social networks, gaining much support from local people and asking for support from the national and international partners. This made it possible to reach the Member of the European Parliament, Viola von Cramon-Taubadel, who made a video message with a conviction of Kronospan for suppressing public protests, gaining the support of 25 other European Parliament members. The following step was the appealing to the Supreme Court of Ukraine, which took 1,5 years (you can find more info about it here: https://ecoclubrivne.org/en/kronospan_court/). The Supreme Court took the side of Ecoclub and the other activists, condemning the Local Court for contradicting Ukrainian law on the access of information, the Civil Code of Ukraine, and the Constitution of Ukraine.

 “This decision creates an important legal “umbrella” to protect anyone who has a say in projects that could have a negative impact on the environment. In particular, the public will not have to prove the “authenticity” of their comments in the environmental impact assessment process.’

The case is not fully solved, since Kronospan has kept on building but with careful attention on Ecoclub and other local activists. Furthermore, in order to keep on building the enterprise has equipped itself with an expensive air monitoring tool to measure the level of air pollution. Ecoclub’s campaign became an example for protecting individual’s right to protest against polluters that are harmfully impacting the environment.

‘It is necessary for the public to be involved in the protest against potential polluters for creating a clean, safe environment and healthy society.’