The Butterfly Effect: Piloting research to support the sustainable transformation of Ukraine's coal mining towns

November 5, 2021

Listening to nature and voices in Myrnohrad and Chervonohrad

There is a rising chorus heard around the world to end the use of coal, a fossil fuel that is the single biggest source of the emissions that cause climate change. That call, however, rarely takes into the consideration the impact a mine closure can have on the communities that rely on them as a source of incomes and livelihoods.

Communities that have specialized in coal mining for generations may see their local job market decline or be eliminated entirely. To ensure the closely of coal mines don’t cause an increase in poverty, such communities must be given appropriate reassurances regarding their economic and social survival.

In a surprise announcement this week from the COP26 climate summit in Scotland, a major international agreement was reached to accelerate the end of coal. As of Friday, 46 countries had committed to ending their use of coal, 23 of which were newcomers to the commitment. Five of these new adherents to the agreement are among the world’s heaviest users of coals, including South Korea (the 5th most coal-intensive economy), Indonesia (7th), Vietnam (9th), Poland (13th) and Ukraine (19th).

Ukraine’s commitment to the 2020 Paris Agreement was the first step on the country’s path to decarbonization, leading to the closure of a number of coal mines. This is leading to drastic changes in the life of coal monotowns. Common in the former Soviet Union, monotowns were towns or even cities built around a single industry or company.  There is concern that closing these mines could result in increasing unemployment, a fall in the quality of public services, and damage to the environment.

During the international climate conference in Glasgow, Ukraine joined the Powering Past Coal Alliance – an association of national governments, businesses and organizations advocating for the abandonment of coal generation and the transition to renewable energy sources. One of the conditions of entry is to name the date when coal will be completely phased out. The deadline set by Ukraine for its state power plants is 2035.

To ensure that coal mining towns are not left alone to cope with the hardships that decarbonization might bring, support from various state and non-state actors is vital. UNDP Ukraine is joining these support efforts by conducting pilot research in two cities where coal mines are planned to be closed – Myrnohrad, in eastern Ukraine, and Chervonohrad, in the west.

UNDP Ukraine Deputy Resident Representative Manal Fouani said her organization is basing its research on the 3L approach: Listen, Learn and Leverage. “This involves listening to the people we serve, learning about their needs, and then leveraging co-created solutions,” she said.

“The UNDP Accelerator Lab add several new features to this approach, including the introduction of a clear visual design for the research, an approach for local stakeholder engagement known as ‘deep listening,’ a series of nature techniques and an innovative portfolio creation methodology,” she said.

Head of Experimentation at the UNDP Accelerator Lab Ukraine Oksana Udovyk further explains the rationale for the research. “Our theory of change is that the implementation of initiatives developed during this pilot research will help direct the transformation of Ukraine's coal-mining cities,” says Udovyk. “Hence the name of this initiative, ‘The Butterfly Effect: A little research could lead to big changes.”

Project Coordinator Alisa Bankovska said the research will use a tried and proven methodology. “In this pilot research, we’re drawing on the experience of Spanish experts Itziar Moreno and Gorka Espinao from the Agirre Lehendakaria Centre research institution, and their practical experience of urban transformation,” Bankovska says. “The effectiveness of this approach has already been seen in cities in Armenia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Thailand, and Montenegro.”

The next steps in this research will be:

Step 1: Create system maps of pilot cities

Step 2: Conduct deep listening and data collection about the community

Step 3: Conduct deep listening and data collection about the environment

Step 4: Data Analysis, Creation of Actionable Insights and Personas

Step 5: Carry out collective interpretation and evaluation by experts

Step 6: Hold “Mine new ideas” Hackathon

Step 7: Compile a portfolio of initiatives and projects for cities

The results of the research will be presented online during the “Mine new ideas” Hackathon in December 2021. Meanwhile, interested parties can follow each step of the process at a tailor-made Facebook page. Anyone wanting to contribute to this research should contact Oksana Udovyk at

Anyone who has visions and ideas for the sustainable transformation of Ukraine's coal mining towns, please apply to the “Mine new ideas” Hackathon. Both national and international submissions are welcome!