«Sooner or later, if money always stands in the first place, apart from everything else, we will come to a point in which it turns out that there is nothing to breathe, there is nothing to drink … and for what then all these businesses!?»
lead singer of the band Tartak
The official figures 14.000 hectares of forest that would have to be cut in order to build such a massive tourist resort. The governor’s services then retracted and explained that there had been a typing mistake and that in fact only 1400 ha would be affected. As far as the activists from Lopukhovo and the ecologists are concerned, this controversy is ridiculous and is only intended to confuse people. What is certain is that there are no precise architectural plans that would make it possible to understand the extent of the future ski resort. The opponents are convinced that if even a small construction is permitted, the massif will in the end be divided up into several parts and destroyed.
The countless clear cuts encourage soil erosion. To lower costs the wood cuts are often carried out close to the forest roads. In winter lorries cannot go up the steep slopes. This type of wood cut leads to serious erosion, reduces biodiversity and provokes land-slides.
The state forest personnel in Lopukhovo have begun to build a new road across the massif to reach the heart of the future ski resort and to link the districts of Tyatchiv and Rakhiv. We have invited local journalists, television channels and ecologists to come and see on the spot what is planned. This involves five hours of four-wheel driving up difficult tracks. They were strongly impressed by what they saw.
The scourge of illegal wood cuts
- The State Forestry Industry Committee is the central body of the government responsible for the forest sector. This committee manages the majority of forests in Ukraine.
- The average age of Ukrainian forests is 55 years. The old forests and primary forests are preserved in natural reserves and in isolated mountain zones. Access to these forests for timber enterprises is difficult.
- A large part of the forests have been planted and require intensive attention.
By illegal wood cuts we mean :
- wood cuts carried out without authorisation ;
- false declarations of the volume and value of the cut timber ;
- wood cuts carried out outside the authorised territory ;
- obtaining authorisations thanks to corrupt procedures ;
- unjustified sanitary wood cuts ;
- illegal occupation of forests for construction purposes or for the extraction of raw materials, requiring the cutting of the forest.
Legal and administrative сauses
The combat against breaches of the forest legislation is all but non-existant. Infractions very rarely lead to a court decision being executed. The participation of citizens and municipalities in the forest sector is more or less symbolic because there is no efficient system facilitating the spreading of information or the organisation of public consultation processes.
In Ukraine there exists a small movement of activists called « The forest guard » (« Lissova Varta ») that seeks to monitor and denounce illegal wood cuts. Its members take photos and draw up detailed reports. They organise workshops to learn how to recognise illegal wood cuts. The movement is, however, not very active in Transcarpathia. It is also true that denouncing illegal wood cuts generally has no effect and the media have stopped reporting on them as they have become so commonplace.
How does the war affect the forests around Svydovets?
The resort is not the only threat to the wild nature of Svydovets. The surrounding forests have long been suffering from unstable and illegal logging. In 2021, Free Svydovets published a comprehensive study on the activities of two state forest enterprises within the Svydovets area, which were involved in large-scale illegal sanitary logging, destruction of primeval forests, and threats against activists.
In 2022-2023, during the full-scale war, the situation did not improve, but rather worsened. Starting from the beginning of the Russian invasion, the Ukrainian authorities repeatedly worsened the forest protection situation. For example, in the spring of 2022, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine suspended the “silence period” – a legislative ban on logging in certain forests during the spring reproduction period of animals. This decision was justified by the need to “enhance the country’s defense capabilities,” although such reasoning was widely criticized.
Another example is that in early 2023, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine abolished the requirement for biological assessments in the preparation of forest management plans. Throughout 2022, the government also made several attempts to abolish a range of other logging restrictions, but these initiatives were successfully blocked by the environmental movement.
One of the biggest problems is the lack of access to forests and information about logging. During 2022-2023, regional administrations repeatedly banned public access to forests, including in the Zakarpattia region. Access to information about logging permits and planned sanitary logging is also limited or non-existent, although such restrictions are not in line with the law and have no impact on the country’s defense capabilities.
All of this makes it difficult for activists to track logging activities in the valuable forests of Svydovets and effectively counter them. It is regrettable that all these limitations not only fail to comply with the legislation but also have no practical significance in the context of the war.
At the end of 2022, another important event occurred: Vasil Telichuk became the new director of the Yasyniansky State Forest Enterprise (which is now a branch of the state company “Forests of Ukraine”). Prior to 2020, this individual had been in charge of the Yasyniansky Forest Enterprise for several years. It was under his leadership that the enterprise carried out large-scale illegal logging for which no one has been held accountable. This includes both sanitary logging and logging in primeval forests, among other things. The new-old director of the Yasyniansky Forest Enterprise is also involved in corruption scandals, such as the division of land in the Khrachuneska mountain meadow. Vasil Telichuk is also known for organizing threats against activists and blocking the ministerial commission responsible for identifying primeval forests, among other things.
The return of Vasil Telichuk to the position occurred as a result of decisions made by the leadership of the forestry sector (State Forest Agency) as part of the forest management reform. As part of the same reform, Valeriy Murga, a controversial former chief forester of Zakarpattia who has been implicated in several corruption scandals and criminal cases related to illegal logging, became the director of another forest enterprise within the Svydovets area – Mokryanske.