Poisoned rivers, bare banks: how the Kharkov Construction Materials plant is fighting with the community for control over the environmental protection zone

We publish below a translation of an article by the Ukrainian anarchist group Assembly about recent environmental struggles. Please excuse any errors in translation.

The state-owned Oktyabrsky Forestry Enterprise is destroying the nature of Zhykhar for a private quarry that leases the land. Hello to those who say that we just need to nationalise all natural resources – and we’ll live like that!

All over the world, grassroots activist communities are standing in the way of the plunder and devastation of living space by wild, predatory capitalism. Sometimes successfully, sometimes not so much. And even in a half-empty city 20 km from the front line, where half of the remaining population tries not to go outside, there are still some opportunities to demonstrate community power.

As Assembly has already written, the pine forest of Zhykhar, although it was artificially planted during the USSR as a plantation for timber harvesting, has an important environmental status . In pursuance of the Berne Convention, which Ukraine signed and ratified back in 1996, the territory of the Zhykhar Forest was declared by the state to be part of the Emerald Network of Europe, that is, classified as lands subject to protection for the restoration of the nature of the entire continent. The network unites about 4 thousand natural objects in 24 European countries; Ukraine finally joined the project in 2020 and included 377 locations (including territories occupied by the Russian Federation). The goal of the project is to preserve rare species of flora and fauna in places of permanent residence and along migration routes. As one of these places on the route of seasonal migration of birds and insects, the Zhykhar forest is included in the environmental protection zone under number UA0000295 – “Lower part of the Udy River valley.” In addition, according to a report from the Council of Europe two years ago, it has a fairly high biodiversity: at least 11 species of birds and three species of other animals live here. But even after the first rally this year against the cutting down of 11 hectares for sand mining , which took place on Sunday, June 9, those who have their eyes on it do not abandon their plans.

The day before yesterday we were sent a report on assessing the impact of the development of the Osnovyanskoye field on the environment, confirming that the batch of trees cut down three weeks ago was not the work of some visiting bandits from the highway, but an official activity coordinated at the Kyiv level. Co-organiser of the protests Svetlana Kuraksina says that an investigation is currently underway into how permission was obtained to cut down forest resources that are not excluded from the recreational category, local residents monitor the forest during the day, and police patrols monitor the forest in the evening and at night:

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The second action against the transformation of the green zone into a pit took place on Saturday, June 14. There was a counter-protest nearby, where workers and managers of Zavod KhSM LLC came out, demanding to “save jobs.” On June 16, protesters met with the mayor and management of the Osnovyansky district. According to forest defenders, the administration promised that if the plant does not find a compromise with people, the city will stop mining and logging.

“I think so, maybe the owners thought that no one cared about the forest, that there was war, people were flowing in, and there was no time for protests, but not about the Kharkiv residents . This forest is still alive only for people who want to talk about it and talk about it, because it’s too close, it’s easy to take it away, ” Artem Prikhodko, the organiser of the pre-war “Clean Udy” campaign for public cleaning of the river, comments on his Instagram. “ Skoda, the local media and newspapersignored this mass protest… Journalists have already been called, they don’t even want to show it.”

“Zavod KhSM”, whose main activity according to the KVED is the production of concrete products for construction, has come to our attention not for the first time. Last summer, the following review was published: “I categorically do not recommend working in this quack company, I read a bunch of negative reviews, but still believed the words of an adult and seemingly respectable business owner. Sergey Viktorovich promised a salary of at least equivalent at the rate of 1000 USD, a reservation without passing the VLK, in the future a seat on the board of directors, etc. In fact, the concept of a reservation in the quack enterprise does not exist at all, no one even hinted at the days worked, draw your own conclusions, in 2-3 months I was the 5th in a row for this position and so on for any vacancies, a brother, matchmaker, friend, etc. is constantly working .” Now, as we can see, the company is also actively looking for personnel:

When asked by our journalist what the urgent recruitment was connected with and whether they would still go to rallies, the author of the ad commented: “Good day, we always post the most in-demand vacancies, this is not connected with expanding the number of staff, but rather with the situation as a whole. Regarding the rally, if necessary, of course, we will still go out for our plant and our workplaces; and most of the local residents work for us.” Natalya did not answer whether this “situation as a whole” meant that many workers quit due to mobilisation.

According to the financial statements of HSM, its business is on the rise: for 2023, net profit in the amount of 10,148,000 hryvnia against -2,145,000 hryvnia in 2022. That is, they are not making ends meet, but are trying to exceed the indicators of 2020 (when they made 11,986,000 UAH of net profit). This is data from the Opendatabot service. Appetite comes with eating.

“Demands have increased. The quarry has been developed for a long time. But as long as it didn’t affect people or houses so closely, the Zhikhory residents tolerated it. Now the situation has become critical. People were outraged. In the 80s, entire streets were flooded. People were then given apartments on Rogan. Maybe they would do the same now, but I really doubt it. And in general, it is very difficult for people who live in the private sector to live in an apartment. Here we have our own standards for one person (how many you build, everything is yours), and sheds, garages, cellars. But there is nothing of this in the apartment,” resident Elena Shulichenko complains in the Zhykhar Telegram chat. “Those who are younger no longer know that there was also a small lake near the kindergarten on Kariernaya. For a teenager, the deepest depth was waist deep. When we were kids, we swam there in the summer and caught tadpoles. In winter we went ice skating. With the arrival of new equipment on the dredge, or uncontrolled sand mining, this lake disappeared.”

“On Tomskaya, right next to the lake, my family lived, their city is already collapsing, because all the trees were cut down, and the sand is just flowing down, ” Anna Ostrovskaya answers her there. “ A few more rocks, and their houses will fall into the quarry.”

The owner of the HSM plant, the beneficiary of the Kharkov Construction Materials corporation and Quarry Osnova LLC, as well as the former director of the mentioned corporation, is Sergey Viktorovich Khoroshailov. In fact, we can talk about one company consisting of several legal entities. He also controls a number of other companies. In the pre-war investigation about the coast of the Pechenezh Reservoir, Khoroshailov was also credited with several houses at the dismantled Zaliv recreation center:

“Because of this, Serhiy Khoroshailov became the founder of the League of Entrepreneurs of Kharkiv Region in 1998. Also a person with such a PIB was an assistant to deputies: Ribakov Igor Oleksandrovych (Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc) and Girshfeld Anatoliy Musiyovych, 4 meetings, self-appointed. […] The Kharikiv Building Materials Corporation was founded in 2002 and was the largest producer of hollow-core slabs, silicate and ceramic aggregates, ready-mixed concrete, cement and foam-food mortars, and aerated concrete in the region.

Yesterday, about 20 people had a Saturday picnic in the forest – they cooked porridge, ate ice cream, and relaxed. Just to show the plant that they care and that they won’t wait for silence. The only poster lay on the ground. There were no representatives of KSM. The Assembly is monitoring the situation further.

Meanwhile, the Kharkov fisheries patrol on the morning of June 11 recorded a death of fish in Udy near the Zhykhar dam. According to their report, dead fish were concentrated in clusters along the shore; a total of 511 were counted: roach, pike, perch, carp, carp, catfish, flatfish and other species. In addition, you can see that the corpses of at least two birds were found on the garbage catcher, and the number of dead fish fry is generally unknown:

Environmental disaster does not come alone. There is currently no information about the guilty company

Publication from Artem Prikhodko | Volunteer-Ecoactivist | For people like people (@artprykhodko)

It’s hard to surprise anyone with the poisoning of rivers in Kharkov. A month before the big war, state television reported the death of almost one and a half dozen wild ducks and drakes on Udy. The authorities promised to look into it, but since then, as they say, things have not been the same

Tatyana Pavlyuk recently shared on the Facebook page of environmental activist Irina Kravchenko: “I would like to tell you how alive Pisochin is, especially the Mobil microdistrict with an industrial zone from all sides and the villages of Nadtochi. Podverki (Dergachiv community), one plant Swiss Krono produces what, and also dumps it into the small river Kuryazhanka, which flows into the river Udivische TEC-5. Because just at the front of the city there is nothing and there is nothing to worry about, besides the local ones. The state authorities do not study anything and do not react to the brutalisation of the ncitizens of the community. Organs that would not exist and nothing would change, besides the huge amounts of savings on their salaries. If all the residents realise that they can sit for their money, then taxes, and start feeding about their lives, then maybe they can change, or not. There’s not much more to it.” Who was responsible for the February environmental disaster with the oil depot in the Nemyshlyansky district is also a rhetorical question. It’s good if at least those reading our magazine still remember it.

And what is most interesting is that in a city with such an attitude of the majority towards environmental problems, just as many consider Africans, Indians and other dark-skinned people to be savages and subhumans who are supposedly incapable of living except in dirt and garbage. And they are even seriously indignant that after the war Ukraine will supposedly be populated by migrants from southern countries. Year after year they themselves demonstrate what they are so afraid of.

Finally, let’s add that the Assembly previously talked about the country’s first garbage catcher, installed by volunteers in Udy, which caught tens of tons of trash in the first year of operation .

In addition, we showed what a practically dead pine forest on Saltovka looks like, and also looked into the reasons for its death .

Original article in Ukrainian: