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“We want Ukrainian forests to have a future,” says Sofiia Petriv, the founder and head of the civil society organization Flora by Petriv. “That’s why we must act now to address the problem of forest pollution.”
Sofiia is a law student at Lviv State University of Internal Affairs. She is also an ecological activist. In June 2022, she and a group of classmates won the DemVision competition organized by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), a USAID partner helping Ukraine build stronger democratic institutions and practices. The DemVision competition gave students a platform to present their projects for renewing Ukrainian forests, with the winning teams receiving resources to implement their projects.
Working together with her peers, Sofiia regularly organizes activities to clean forests and plant trees in the Lviv region. She also visits local schools to speak with younger students about climate change, forests, and ecological initiatives.
“There is an acute need to take care of our forests and environment in general,” Sofiia says of her work. “We decided to launch our eco-initiative to raise awareness of this problem and encourage youth to join our efforts. Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine aggravates this problem even more. Rockets and continuous shelling cause fires all over Ukrainian territory and destroy Ukrainian forests. Because of the war, a lot of Ukrainian forests are now mined.”
Sofiia was first inspired to get involved in eco-activism after participating in Democracy: From Theory to Practice, a civic education course for Ukrainian university students. The course is developed by IFES with USAID support. To date, more than 12,000 Ukrainian students at over 60 universities and vocational colleges have successfully completed the course, learning about fundamental concepts of democratic citizenship, systems of government, civic participation, and human rights, while gaining new skills through hands-on activities.
After taking the course, Sofiia was motivated as well as equipped with the skills and knowledge necessary to design and implement her own student project. After that, she entered the DemVision contest.
In just one year, Sofiia’s project has yielded impactful results and is popular among youth.
“The most important thing has been to believe in ourselves. And now we see the immense impact on our society,” she says.
“We’re often invited to give lectures at schools and universities and explain to students that our future largely depends on clean forests. We see that the students have become more motivated and want to join our eco-initiative to help save our environment. They plant trees and clean forests together with us.”
The team sets ambitious goals and in the upcoming year plans to continue expanding the project.
“Every day our project gets more and more attention. Before DemVision, we had planted only 100 trees in total,” recalls Sofiia. “When we applied for the contest, we didn’t have any expectations and our goal was to plant 1,000 trees. Eventually, we managed to plant twice as many – 2,000 trees. We think this is an incredible result!”
As the chair of the Flora by Petriv civil society organization, Sofiia notes that Ukraine lacks other similar eco-projects; therefore, her organization works to promote eco-activism in Ukraine.
“It is quite difficult to engage in any eco-initiatives or to find information about forest cleaning, as very few organizations in Ukraine invite people to do it. That is how I came up with the idea to establish my own organization to engage more people, particularly students, in cleaning our forests,” she added.
Discussing the future, Sofiia sees her young project growing into a large-scale eco-movement throughout Ukraine.
“I have an opportunity to engage more and more students in eco-activism through my networks. In the future, I see this as a large-scale eco-movement in our country.”