Who will stop the „quiet hurricane“ in the Ternopil oblast forests?
Little by little people are forgetting the unheard-of hurricane that swept over the Ternopil oblast in June 2002. The villages have been already restored, but in the forest the picture is distressing: turned out roots, splintered trunks, mouldering logs covered with mushrooms… Today, two and a half years after the disaster, the majority of the forests are not brought in order still. The state forestries insist that they have no finances for the clearing and that there is no demand for firewood. At the same time they fell other, very often alive and healthy, threes – oaks, beeches, ash-trees, wood cherries. One may not help to get rid of the thought: one hurricane passed, but other, man-caused and so „quiet“, is still whirling over our woods.
In private talks foresters complain about the illegal felling, which they are made to do (and to hide), about the pay arrears, about some strange and probably also illegal „Lviv innovations“, about their bosses, who do not care for the development of forest branch and only for the own profit obtained from selling the wood. At the same time almost every interview in the press devoted to these problems describe the absolute idyll: from the lyrical titles (something like „Wood symphony“) to the optimistic reports about the increase of incomes from the export of wood abroad. For instance, only in 2000 the Chortkiv forestry increased the export in 2.6 times! For some reasons nobody asked the question, from whom we are stealing this wood planted by our forefathers. Maybe from our children? Why we export our wood to the countries, who have twice more forests?
For whom the laws and ecological programs are written? For example, the State program „Forests of Ukraine in 2002-2015“ plans to extend the forest areas for 2.2 million hectares. The Chortkiv district program for protecting the environment envisages the increase the percentage of forest lands to the level of the ecological optimum, i.e. to 20-25%, while now this number is about 13%. And the degree of afforestation decreases from year to year: while in 1971-75 the Chortkiv forestry planted 1380 hectares of forest, in recent years this figure diminished to zero. It seems a mockery, but our Forest Code states: „Ukrainian forests are the national wealth of the country, they mainly fulfil the ecological (water protection, sanitary, health protection, recreation), aesthetic, pedagogic and other functions; they have the restricted operational value and are the subject of state control and protection“. The problem is that nowadays almost all Ukrainian regions experience the deficit of forests. In old times the forest landscapes were the most typical in Ukraine. Yet, after many years of irrational management, wars and social cataclysms, the Ukrainian forests were, so to speak, „repressed“: their area diminished thrice during the last century. So wide-scaled extirpation caused, of course, the disturbance of the natural balance: it is the reason of the rapid exhaustion of the fertile soils, drying and silting rivers, deterioration of subsoil waters, climate fluctuations, irreversible disappearance of biological species, frequent hurricanes and other natural disasters… If we would not restore the area of our forests to the certain level established by scientists, the so-called ecological optimum, we will finally lose the basis of the natural balance of the country.
I am not surprised when the numerous controlling and law-enforcing organs disregard the facts of the illegal felling in our woods, the facts that nevertheless are described in many „private“ talks. Naturally, it is abnormal, but… „we have what we have“. Our country is not law-abiding yet. The controlling instances do not regard forests as a living creature, as a value as it is. When I sent the deputies information requests on the violations committed by the Chortkiv forestry to the prosecutors office, I did not expect the irrefragable answer. All was predictable: they refused to give me any information with the following motivation (verbatim): „the investigation of the actions having any criminal features, including crimes in the ecological sphere, does not belong to the functions of the oblast council“. Yet, in spite of the low level of my legal knowledge, I find in Article 13 of the Forest Code the assertion that they are oblast councils, who must „control the protection, use and renascence of forests“. That is why I believe that the oblast prosecutors office paltered in a certain sense. In January and February of 2002 the „Ecobulletin“ edited by the Chortkiv ecological organization „Zeleny svit“ published two problematic „forest“ materials. The reaction of the authorities was also predictable – the deathly silence.
The thing I cannot understand is why the people, who, for all their lives, planted and protected forests, were silent about the destruction of the forest fund? Why, a real forester, as well as a real teacher, surgeon or bee-master, is not a mere profession, it is a certain life philosophy, humane, wise and sacrificial. The basis of this philosophy is unselfish work for next generations, even without any hopes to see the full results of this work with own eyes. That is why, before this curtain of silence had already disappeared, I felt that something was very wrong. But they began to speak: foresters, forest engineers, managers of state forestries and others. I was listening for them both in the forests and in the oblast council, and I have no reasons to distrust them. The open letter to the top state authorities of Ukraine and the oblast signed on 21 September 2002 by several tens of forest workers describes the degree of the barbaric extermination of our woods. The noble leafy groves turned into the currency accounts of private firms, into luxurious cars, cottages and swimming pools of the „forest generals“, the bureaucrats, who are in charge of our woods.
Obviously, the „forest generals“ are not individual offenders, they demonstrate the wide-scale social phenomena. The misuses of such level are impossible in an open civil society with a well-controlled power. The all-national corruption and shadow business are patronized in the top state offices, political structures and central „law-enforcing“ agencies.
I am expecting some remarks like „Where are the proofs?“ If to say about proofs, as early as in the Ancient Rome the lawyers considered the „agumentum ex silencio“, that is the so-called „proof concluded from silence“. And the facts of silence are more than numerous. Naturally, the scandal around the Ternopil oblast woods touches the interests of many state officials, so they trey to conceal the scandal. I have already mentioned the passivity on the side of the Prosecutors office. Foresters Yu. Rosly and Y. Freyak, who tried to denounce the forest affair, had been sacked even before the special commissions began to function. Why forest workers unanimously speak about the atmosphere of fear and threats? Who ordered to destroy the entire run of the newspaper „Svoboda“ with the information of the press service of the oblast council (the owner of the newspaper is, by the way, the oblast council itself!)? Further the situation changes from bad to worse: the request of MP I. Stoyko with the demand to investigation the case of „Ternopillis“ disappears from the secretariat of the Supreme Rada of Ukraine. And, maybe, the beginning of the special session of the oblast council was not accidental too: the problems were considered of the political crisis and the violations in the forest branch of the oblast.
However, if we want to solve the problem, we must forget about the esprit de corps. All these tricks are only postponing the solution of the problem and burdening it with new abuses. It seems to me that the main goal is not to punish the „forest generals“. We must dismantle the whole system of this shadow business, which, like a hurricane, destroys the national wealth created by many generations. It is a very complicated task. However, we must do this. This is our land. This is our duty not to permit these „quiet hurricanes“ to ruin this land.
P.S. Lately the rumors were confirmed about the destruction in a printing shop of the entire run of the issue of 17 October 2002 of the newspaper „Svoboda“, the printed media of the Ternopil oblast council and state administration. The reason for this destruction was that the newspaper published the information given by I. Moroz, the head of the press center of the council. The information concerned the work of the special deputies commission created by A. Zhukinskiy on 9 October 2002 in response to the open letter of the numerous group of forestry workers to the top state officials of Ukraine. In their letter the foresters wrote about the serious violations on the side of „Ternopillis“ (the state organization in charge of the woods of the oblast), in particular its general manager I. Popadynets. These actions, they wrote, caused the great damage to the forest fund and created the intolerable moral and psychological climate in the enterprises of this branch.
The attempts to block the work of the commission have been made from the first day of its functioning. It seems to me that the session of the oblast council on 18 October 2002 was upset not accidentally: the session was going to discuss the question about „the case of the Forest general“ (it is rumored that general manager I. Popadinets calls himself so). On 29 October 2002 on the session of the council I handed the individual request, in which I proposed to issue the warning concerning the clumsy attempts to hush-hush the crisis in the forest industry and to investigate the events connected with the destruction of the run of the newspaper „Svoboda“. Yet, neither the Head of the council not Head of the administration I. Kurnitskiy commented in any way the fact that the newspaper was not issued. I do not know in what reading the session decision concerning my request was adopted. In particular, I am interested, does it mention the investigation of the newspaper scandal. But I learned from some state officials close to the oblast council apparatus, who wished to remain incognito, that the destruction of the newspaper was forestalled by the telephone call from… LUDMILA KUCHMA with the proposition „to leave alone“ and „not to defame“ the general manager of „Ternopillis“. This call made the administration of the oblast to sacrifice the newspaper „Svoboda“ and the freedom of information as a whole. I know that after this blatant arbitrariness MP Ivan Stoyko also handed the request with the proposition to create the deputies investigation commission. The results of considering this requests are unknown. The hope that the case of „Ternopillis“ will be investigated efficiently seems groundless taking into account the mass pressure upon the people, who try to direct the case to the rightful course. For example, the previous written request of MP I. Stoyko was STOLEN (!!!) from the secretariat of the Supreme Rada. In October, according to the order of the State committee in charge of forests, two persons were fired from their posts, who dared „to wash the dirty linen in public“: Yu. Rosly, the manager of the Ternopil forestry, and Y. Freyak, the manager of the Buchatski forestry. The workers of forestries point out the formal character of the checks conducted by the state ecological inspection and the commission of the State committee of forests. At the same time the traces of the illegal felling in forests are urgently covered up. The people, who signed the above-mentioned collective letter, are threatened and persecuted. Only on 24 October 2002, that is in a month after the letter was presented to the oblast council, the text of the letter was printed in the newspapers „Vilne zhyttia“ and “Svoboda“. I, as a deputy of the oblast council and a member of its special committee, wrote my comment to these events titled „Who will stop the quiet hurricane in the Ternopil oblast forests?“ This comment was not accepted by any newspaper of the oblast. Journalists are afraid of this topic, they understand that very great money and the interests of very important officials are connected with the illegal feeling and the export of the wood of superior quality abroad. In their turn, those, who have the profit from this business, know: the public apathy and passivity are the best allies for them. Nothing can stop them in their efforts to prevent the publicity. Today they „suspended“ the newspaper „Svoboda“. What are they going to do tomorrow?
Commentary: The problem described in the article by Oleksandr Stepanenko is not only an ecological or human rights protection problem, or a problem of forest-guards and journalists. This is a problem of all citizens, of all our society.
A group of insatiable profit-seekers are destroying our environment and the future of our Ukraine. They do their best to prevent any truthful publications on this topic. With such tendencies Ukraine may become a desert like Sahara earlier than the predictions about the global rise in temperature would come true.
It is necessary to send mass protest letters to the Supreme Rada, to the General Prosecutors office, to the Ministry of Ecology, to the State committee in charge of forests and, what id the main, to the State committee of information policy, which permits this censorship. The bureaucrats stifle „Svoboda“, the Ternopil oblast newspaper. They stifle the freedom of speech and thought. And later our children will suffocate because of the lack of oxygen – dead trees cannot produce it!
Sergiy Fedorynchyk, the head of the information center of the ecological association „Zeleny svit“