Going Green in Ways Big and Small: U.S. Embassy Kyiv Celebrates Earth Week with a Park Cleanup and Environmental Initiatives

Posted by: Joseph Rozenshtein is Assistant Management Officer and Green Team Coordinator; Rachel Atwood Mendiola is an Assistant Cultural Affairs Officer and leads the Green Team’s outreach efforts.

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Ambassador Geoff Pyatt led U.S. Embassy Kyiv’s celebration of Earth Week 2014 by helping to clean a portion of Nivky Park
Ambassador Geoff Pyatt led U.S. Embassy Kyiv’s celebration of Earth Week 2014 by helping to clean a portion of Nivky Park

On Wednesday, April 30, Ambassador Geoff Pyatt led U.S. Embassy Kyiv’s celebration of Earth Week 2014 by helping to clean a portion of Nivky Park, located just across Igor Sikorski Street from the Embassy. The beautification project involved 25 Embassy officers, local staff, and family members working together with the Kyiv City Park Administration. We collected trash, including broken glass, bottle caps, plastic waste, and other refuse, and swept one of the major paths in the park to make it cleaner for fellow pedestrians. Nivky Park is more than 100 years old and was granted the status of a local nature reserve in 1972. There are over 90 varieties of trees in the park. The park is a long-time neighborhood favorite.

The park cleanup was organized by U.S. Embassy Kyiv’s Green Team. As Green Team members, we were glad to see so many of our colleagues and their family members join us to give back to a park and community that means so much to us, both as commuters and as good neighbors, by helping to keep the park clean, healthy, and safe. It’s also not every day that you see the Ambassador with a broom!

The cleanup is only one of the many activities the Embassy is doing to celebrate environmental responsibility.  As Secretary of State Kerry said, “This year’s Earth Day focus is cities, and the fact is, how the world’s cities respond to our climate change challenge will make a huge difference. Roughly 5.2 billion people are projected to live in the world’s urban communities by 2050. Building codes and electricity requirements, public transportation systems, and land management will help determine whether we meet this global challenge. The Department of State is committed to doing our part to help bring about greener cities around the world.” As part of the Department of State’s “Greening Diplomacy Initiative,” the Embassy has worked green practices into the very fabric of our mission. Here are just a few things we are doing:

  • We built a green Embassy, with a green roof system and indigenous landscaping with rain gardens that pre-treat storm water.
  • We installed energy efficient hand driers to reduce our paper towel use.
  • Our Building Automation System keeps our boilers turned off for longer periods of time, reducing energy and gas consumption.
  • We safely dispose thousands of fluorescent light bulbs that contain harmful mercury.
  • We have motion sensors to control lighting in the corridors, some offices, and rooms.
  • We buy paper locally, rather than shipping it from the U.S., which reduces gas consumption and pollution from transportation.
  • We care about recycling and recently visited the company where our paper, plastic, glass, and metal waste items are sorted for recycling.
  • We used distillers in all our homes to reduce bottled water usage, but as these machines are not energy efficient, we are replacing the distillers with low energy water filters, reducing our carbon footprint.
  • We also started a community garden last year. Most of us grew up in cities where access to nature was limited, and with the community garden, we can learn about growing food while teaching our children the importance of caring for the environment.

But that’s just what we do inside the Embassy. We also strive to help Ukraine and Ukrainians to improve their environment with various projects, like improving environmental legislation and clean energy regulation, saving energy, reducing CO2 emissions, and developing sustainable clean energy alternatives, among others.

To learn more, and to tell us some of the ways you work to improve your environment, check out our recent Earth Day video!


U.S. Embassy Kyiv Celebrates Earth Day with the U.S. Forest Service and Local Youth

By Misha Martorana, Environment, Science, Technology, and Health Officer 

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Ambassador Tefft plants trees with NULES rector Dmytro Melnychuk
Ambassador Tefft plants trees with NULES rector Dmytro Melnychuk

Embassy Kyiv had a full Earth Day schedule, honoring the occasion with Ambassador Tefft planting trees, as well as with lectures, educational campaigns, and outreach events throughout the week.  This year, we also had the great fortune to host former Chief of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Dale Bosworth and a team from the USFS International Programs Office, who participated with the Embassy on not one but two Earth Day tree plantings (one with Ambassador Tefft, one without).

The first Earth Day was celebrated April 22, 1970, and was conceived as a “teach-in” event to be held at universities across the country.  Its initiator, Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, felt a call to action after what he saw at the sight of the 1969 Santa Barbara, California oil spill.  By 1990, Earth Day had gone international and, by 2012, was celebrated by over 1.5 billion people across 190 countries.  Embassy Kyiv’s own Earth Day activism in 2013 engaged more than 450 Ukrainians and generated extensive news coverage.

Deputy Economic Counselor Elizabeth Horst kicked off our

Youth Council members paint their new “eco-bags.”
Youth Council members paint their new “eco-bags.”

Earth Day outreach April 18 with a lecture on the U.S. government’s environmental diplomacy efforts.  Horst spoke to around 35 young professionals and university students as part of the Embassy’s Youth Development Initiative, a program that targets young Ukrainians to educate them about the United States’ role in a variety of international and domestic issues such as food security, NATO, and international relations.  Horst spoke about the State Department’s and other U.S. government agencies’ work in promoting sound environmental policy and stewardship throughout the world in our efforts to mitigate climate change and environmental disasters.

On Sunday, April 21, the U.S. Embassy’s Youth Council held an exciting, interactive Earth Day campaign giving away hundreds of free, environmentally friendly, reusable bags to shoppers willing to hand over their disposable plastic bags.  Polyethylene bags, used commonly at grocery stores and markets in the United States and Ukraine, take between 400-1,000 years to fully decompose.  Reusable bags can be used hundreds of times and decompose significantly faster than regular plastic bags.  The all-day event included a bag decorating workshop, giant eco-puzzle for kids, live band, face painting and henna stations, and a banner on which people could write messages to the Earth.  The campaign was well-received by the public and covered widely by local media.

Girl Scouts stand by bags of trash they collected at Andrivsky Uzviz.

Even Embassy children did their part.  About 30 children and their family members from the Embassy’s Girl Scout troop, which includes girls aged 7-11 from multiple countries, joined volunteers to clean up two parks surrounding Andrivsky Uzviz.  The historical neighborhood and surrounding parks are a popular tourist destination centered around the more than 250 year old St. Andrew’s Church.

  Embassy personnel plant pine trees with students at a SAFRU nursery.
Embassy personnel plant pine trees with students at a SAFRU nursery.

The many days of events closed with two tree plantings on Earth Day, April 22.  In the morning, Ambassador Tefft and former USFS Chief Dale Bosworth, along with other USFS and Embassy personnel, planted trees and met with officials at the National University of Life and Environmental Sciences of Ukraine (NULES).  Ambassador Tefft and Chief Bosworth paired with NULES Rector Dmytro Melnychuk and Chairman of the State Agency for Forest Resources of Ukraine (SAFRU) Victor Sivits to plant trees on university grounds, joined by students and media.  The event was followed by a roundtable and Q&A session where about 100 students and faculty learned about the USFS’ approach to sustainable forest management.  Learn more about NULES’ programs and curriculum at their website here.

Valdis E. Mezainis, Director of the USFS International Programs Offices plants pine trees with students.
Valdis E. Mezainis, Director of the USFS International Programs Offices plants pine trees with students.

After lunch, the USFS delegation and Embassy personnel from the Foreign Agricultural Service, Economic Section, Department of Energy, and Public Affairs Office got their hands dirty helping Deputy Director of SAFRU Yaroslav Makarchuk, his officers, and students plant hundreds of pine trees at a nursery outside of Kyiv.  The ceremony organized by SAFRU capped off their annual the “Future of the Forest [is] in Your Hands” campaign, established in 2006.  The forest agency uses roundtables, tree plantings, press conferences, classroom lectures, and concerts to emphasize the importance of forest conservation and environmental sustainability.  Embassy and USFS staff helped SAFRU staff and students dig holes and plant each sapling with a mineral pack, one tree at a time.  More information about SAFRU’s forest campaign can be found at their website here.

More photos from the Embassy’s Earth Day activities can be found on our Flickr page.

Celebrating International Water Day

Posted by: Doug Morrow, Assistant Cultural Affairs Officer

A recent article in the New York Times made me think about the importance of water, not just to our day to day lives, but to the fates of nations and industries. The article described a huge swath of the central United States, from South Dakota to Texas, underneath which is one of the world’s largest aquifers, the Ogalalla. Prior to the 1930s, this region was known as the Great American Desert, and farmers who attempted to ply their trade there were frequently brought to ruin – particularly in the famous “Dust Bowl” of the early 1930s, when huge clouds of topsoil, loosened by plows, swept across parts of the United States in terrifying mile-high dust clouds.

The Seljalandsfoss Waterfall in Iceland, by Amnon Eichelberg. (Photos of National Georgraphic)

In the 1930s, a massive campaign began to tap the Ogalalla for irrigation, and the region became one of the most stable and productive agricultural success stories in the world. This part of the United States now produces a large portion of our livestock, corn, soybeans, and especially wheat. But the bounty won’t last. This desert requires huge volumes of water to maintain its productivity. In total, farmers are draining the Ogalalla aquifer by 23cm per year, but the natural recharge rate of the aquifer (how much the aquifer is replenished by rainwater each year) varies from only 0.61mm to 150mm per year, depending on the region. As a result, some experts estimate that within 20 years, the entire aquifer will be gone! Continue reading “Celebrating International Water Day”

USAID Municipal Heating Reform Project “Save Heat, Save Ukraine!”

Posted by: Erin Concors, Senior Communications Advisor, USAID

As a humanitarian aid volunteer in Ukraine in the 1990s, I discovered many ways to stay warm during the long Ukrainian winters. I experimented with local methods of heating the small apartment that I rented on Kyiv’s left bank, since I had no control over my apartment’s temperature. To cope with the cold, I would light my antiquated gas oven, turn it to “high” and leave the oven door open. I bought Styrofoam insulation, stuffed it into the spaces between the window panes, and used tape to seal the gaps. Alternatively, when the city’s heating system had cranked up the heat and it simultaneously warmed up outside, I opened windows to cope with the hot, stuffy atmosphere.

This personal experience taught me how great the need is for reform of Ukraine’s community heating systems. Since 2009, the U.S. Government has provided financial and technical assistance to Ukraine through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Municipal Heating Reform Project. The project works to help Ukraine improve its heating sector to deliver quality services to private citizens, public institutions and industry. The four-year project aims to address Ukraine’s inefficient legal and regulatory framework; outdated inefficient heat generating equipment; a lack of heat metering and controls; poor management of heating systems; and Ukraine’s dependence on foreign sources of energy. Continue reading “USAID Municipal Heating Reform Project “Save Heat, Save Ukraine!””

Advancing Nuclear Medicine in Ukraine

Posted by: Gaia Self, Economic Analyst for Environment, Science, Technology and Health

Opening Day of the Nuclear Medicine Conference – Kharkiv, 19 September 2011

On September 17th I traveled to Kharkiv to attend a three-day international workshop on “Nuclear Medicine: Physics, Engineering and Practice,” which brought together over 100 scientists from 13 Ukrainian and 11 international research institutes. This forum was the first of its kind in Ukraine and created a new community of Ukrainian and international stakeholders in the field of nuclear medicine. American scientists who participated in the workshop came from Argonne National Laboratories, Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory, University of Texas, University of Arizona, Johns Hopkins University and Chicago Trauma Risk Management Research Institute. The conference took place at the Institute for Scintillation Materials and was sponsored in part by the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Energy. Chicago-based Argonne National Laboratories provided technical support to the event.

Scientists gathered into small groups to discuss specific projects in the field of nuclear medicine

The host city of Kharkiv has a long history as a center of academic excellence. V. N. Karazin Kharkiv National University, founded in 1804, was one of the oldest academic institutions of the Russian Empire. Since the early 19th Century, Kharkiv has seen the development of over 60 scientific institutions and 80 libraries, continuing today as one of the major cultural and scientific hubs of Ukraine. No other place could have been better suited to welcome dozens of international and Ukrainian scientists who gathered to assess the latest trends in nuclear medicine. One of the main goals of the workshop was to create opportunities for cooperation to reduce the cost and broaden the availability of diagnostic equipment. Speakers discussed the production of isotopes for medical purposes, instrumentation for medical imaging, trends in radionuclide diagnostics, research and development of pharmaceuticals for nuclear medicine, bio-medical applications and new detectors for nuclear medicine. The workshop also included smaller sections where experts discussed specific challenges and projects in the field of nuclear medicine, and over 50 experts complemented the formal presentations with “poster sessions” right outside the conference room. Continue reading “Advancing Nuclear Medicine in Ukraine”