First, we listen to people, and only then to nature – when the situation is already critical and needs immediate intervention and solution. That is why the UNDP project "Butterfly Effect: Pilot Studies in Support of Ukraine's Transformation of Coal Mining Cities" focuses not only on social transformations, but also on deep listening and understanding what is happening to the environment in cities.
The coal industry has, of course, had a negative impact on the environment in terms of air quality, water and soil pollution, as well as biodiversity.
During one of the seven steps of our study, we decided to assess the environmental condition of the pilot coal mono-cities of Chervonohrad and Myrnohrad in order to find effective solutions that could improve the state of these cities’ environment.
During the “Butterfly Effect” study, we held an in-depth hearing and collection of environmental data using eight different tools and data sources:
This year (2021), during the programme we were able to use four tools:
1. Information from satellites
Analysing information from satellites, we noted air pollution by PM 2.5 and PM 10 particles. In general, after the closure of a mine, air quality improves as with the fall in emissions of dust particles created during mine operations. However, several important problems can linger for many years: dust and gas emissions from slagheaps (CO2, SO2, NOx), explosions, fires, acid rain, and smog.
The picture of cultivated land that we saw from the satellite data was striking – 75 percent of Ukraine's territory is agricultural fields. There is practically no uncultivated land in and around Myrnohrad. Agriculture is one of the most important areas of development in Myrnohrad, but this level of cultivation indicates the destruction of soil fertility and prospects for future farming.
2. Existing data monitoring
During the study, the availability of sensors and stations to monitor air quality in Myrnohrad and Chervonohrad was checked. In the cities themselves, the production of monitoring data is very limited. However, near Myrnohrad in the village of Ocheretyne, Pokrovsk (Donetsk region) and near Chervonohrad in the village of Kamyanka-Buzka, Zhovkva (Lviv region) data is available from the monitors SaveEcoBot and Ecocity. They confirm the data we received from satellites about air pollution in terms of the content of PM 2.5 and PM 10.0 particles.
Also in Myrnohrad, measurements were made of the impact of operating sources of pollution on the condition of atmospheric air using a mobile ecological laboratory. During the last observation on 10.04.2020, the value of the indicators exceeded safe levels for the content of PM 2.5 and PM10.0 particles in the area of Central Street 77, and in the area between Gorky St. and Shkilny Lane, 2 at the SPZ waste heap of the State Enterprise "Mirnogradugol" SE Mine "5/6".
3. Government reports, publications, and other documents
Government reports, publications and other documents also confirmed there was local pollution of soil, air with dust and heavy metals, local pollution of groundwater and surface water, flooding, and background pollution.
In general, most publications focus on two main issues: mine water and slagheaps.
Due to the significant disruption to hydrological systems caused by coal mining, the groundwater level is rising. While the mine is operating, the water is pumped out, but after closing the water level rises outside, flooding the area, which carries a huge risk to the city. In addition, significant levels of mineralization and the acidity of the water pose a threat to ecosystems and human health. This water contains high concentrations of heavy metals such as copper, lead, zinc, cadmium. Even in low concentrations, these elements are very toxic.
Another negative consequence of the mines are the slagheaps. They consist of hollow rocks separated during coal mining. They retain solar heat, increase erosion, often are a source of radiation, and can be explosive. In the 1960's in Myrnohrad there was even an explosion on the slagheap of mine 5/6.
4. Conversations, observations, chatbot
During a survey of people in Myrnohrad and Chervonohrad, we heard that locals were concerned about the environmental situation – but not as much as they were about mine closures and a possible economic downturn. People in both cities talked about air and water pollution, smouldering slag heaps, background radiation and other problems related to the work of the mines.
In addition to mines, which affect all spheres of life in coal mono-cities, we also see that people are concerned about burning deadwood, waste, and over-exploitative agriculture. Chervonohrad citizens also mentioned concerns about climate change, flooding, and soil degradation.
In Myrnohrad, people often complained about livestock and agricultural waste. And in Chervonohrad, almost everyone complained about water quality.
Creating a Nature Persona
Based on all the data obtained from the study, we developed so-called Personas for Myrnohrad and Chervonohrad. The creation of Personas is a tool that is often used in design thinking, and allows you to create generalized images of users. After all, we can create some solutions only by understanding how they meet the needs of the target audience. Usually, the solution users are people. In our case, we decided to create another user – Nature. We did it to make our portfolio of solutions not egocentric but eco-centric, and both people and nature-inclusive. Therefore, the UNDP team together with experts also created Nature Personas pf the cities:
The Personas helped us in the next step of the research – creating a portfolio of initiatives and projects for cities. To make it, we analysed existing initiatives and projects that can help to meet the challenges facing people and nature in pilot cities after the coal industry shuts down. We also generated solutions by organizing a special Hackathon involving several teams.
Creating solutions for Nature Personas:
During the “Hackathon of coal mining cities. Mine new ideas!” for solving problems related to the challenges of nature, ecology, and energy of the pilot cities of Myrnohrad and Chervonohrad, the ten teams proposed the following projects:
- Scientific team "EcoMining" – a study of the composition of slagheaps, assessment of the composition of the air basin, the neutralization of wastewater by creating bioplateau and phytomeliorative processes on the surface, slopes and foothills, phytoremediation, and formation of phytogenic vegetation fields.
- Lviv/ANILSAM project 1 – construction of a THERMOTEC coal-chemical complex on the territory of the mine for the production of synthesis gas and synthetic motor fuel. The project can solve the problem of providing the city with quality heat and electricity.
- Lviv/ANILSAM project 2 – creation of a local solar power plant for electricity generation and increasing the energy independence of the utility facility.
- SE "STC" Coal Innovation " – the use of low-potential energy sources of mine No. 5 / 6 to supply heat to projects created on the basis of the mine
- GeoTherm – the use of geothermal resources of mine waters to meet the thermal needs of public utilities in the city of Myrnohrad.
- Green Power Hybrid – construction of underground energy storage facilities, hydroelectric power plants, using mine water.
- Techmet Scientific and Technical Center – purification of mine waters in Chervonohrad region with the help of iron-titanium coagulant "Ferrotite", which can be used to purify highly saline mine waters.
- Clean water – conceptual solutions for mine water treatment and water supply in coal mining regions.
- Bioplato – development and installation of floating bioplato for water treatment.
- SYNAPS – a cogeneration power plant for the utilization of mine methane.
Learn more about the solutions for the transformation of Myrnohrad and Chervonohrad.
Text: Oksana Udovyk, UNDP Ukraine Accelerators Lab,
Alissa Bankovska, SYNCHROPROSTIR NGO