Ukraine asks KKL-JNF to help it plant a billion trees over three years

President Zelensky announced ambitious plan in June to help combat climate change. By way of comparison, all 27 EU nations together want to plant 3 billion trees

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

A forest in Ukraine. (Aisheyko, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)
A forest in Ukraine. (Aisheyko, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

The Ukrainian government has asked the KKL-JNF Jewish National Fund to help it implement an ambitious plan to plant a billion trees over the next three years.

The vision was announced by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in June as part of a move to address climate change.

The country’s environment and natural resources minister, Roman Abramovsky, turned to KKL Chairman Avraham Duvdevani with a request for knowledge transfer and advice on the technology needed to implement the plan.

According to a KKL spokesperson, the organization’s chief forester will be setting up a joint Israeli-Ukrainian team. Israeli experts will fly to Ukraine to instruct their counterparts there on how to plant and maintain trees, and will provide tools and technology to plant and monitor the forests.

The BBC in June contrasted Zelensky’s plan for a billion trees with the three billion tree target of all 27 European Union member states put together.

Sergiy Zibtsev, a professor at the forestry department of Ukraine’s environmental sciences university, welcomed the government’s program. He told the BBC, “This is what we have campaigned for for a very long time. It’s a good decision that will give forestry a boost, and will make the work of forest rangers more prestigious and better paid.”

Ukrainian steppe. (Balkhovitin, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

But other green experts fear the tree-planting program could do more harm than good, the report said.

This is because many of the natural habitats that became agricultural fields under Soviet rule were not forests but steppe — a form of usually-treeless grassland that extends from Ukraine through Russia and Central Asia and into Mongolia and China.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, right, shakes hands with Israeli President Isaac Herzog during a welcome ceremony ahead of their meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

“Around 40 percent of Ukraine’s territory is made up of steppe climate zone, but only 3% of the country has preserved the natural steppe ecosystems with their abundant flora,” Olexiy Vasyliuk, from the Ukrainian Nature Conservation Group, told the BBC.

Minister Abramovsky told the organization that the tree-planting would be focused on former industrial areas, as well as over 1,500 urban parks, and that new forests would only be planted where woodland had been hit by fire or disease, or in areas where forests had grown naturally before humans intervened.

Earlier this month, during the visit of President Isaac Herzog to Ukraine for a ceremony marking the 80th anniversary of the Babi Yar massacre just outside of the capital Kyiv, KKL-JNF announced that it was opening a Ukraine office.

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