Kostiantyn Krynytskyi has been working around the clock to distract himself from the carnage caused by Russia's invasion of his country, Ukraine.

Towns and cities where he’s lived and visited are being turned to rubble by bombs. The destruction is incomprehensible, he said, and pausing too long to think about it is devastating.   

An environmental campaigner for Ecoaction, Krynytskyi has dedicated his life to calling for the transformation of the global energy sector away from fossil fuels and nuclear energy toward renewable sources like wind and solar. 

Russia’s aggression, according to Krynytskyi, has been enabled by fossil fuels. 

“If Europe and other countries didn’t rely so heavily on fossil fuels from Russia, Putin and his regime, Russia itself, wouldn’t have so much power, so much military power and bargaining power,” he said. 

Globally, fossil fuels enable the abuses of autocratic regimes like Russia, he said, adding that the surest way to weaken their power would be to phase out these dirty sources of energy. 

Krynytskyi spoke with Global Citizen about the role fossil fuels play in the invasion, the urgent need to move beyond fossil fuels, and how his team is working amid the war.  

Global Citizen: Can you explain how fossil fuels were a root cause of the war, and essentially enabled this war?

Krynytskyi: I think right now for everyone in Ukraine, it's obvious that the money created by the selling of oil, gas, coal, and nuclear power is fueling this war. It’s money that’s going to the Russian state budget. This dependency is what created the war — it was self-inflicted. If Europe and other countries didn’t rely so heavily on fossil fuels from Russia, Putin and his regime — Russia itself — wouldn’t have so much power, so much military power and bargaining power. 

We see that this financing that’s been happening for years and years and years could've been avoided if countries diversified their risks and invested in energy and energy efficiency. If fossil fuels were phased out 20 years ago, we wouldn’t be in this situation right now.

We have been talking for years of the dangers of this fossil fuel lock-in. 

When you look at the world map, when you look at the countries that are so financially dependent on fossil fuels, they are often autocratic countries, countries with strict regimes. This money that comes from the export of fossil fuels from Russia sustains the war and Russia’s ability to wage war.

How could a shift to decentralized, renewable energy reduce the likelihood of war?

There’s a form of renewable energy where you have corporations and big business, but we’re advocating for more distributed generation in communities. We have so many towns in Ukraine, and this goes for countries around the world, too, that can develop energy on the local level through households and small businesses. When you have this more decentralized energy, it creates more security. 

If we invest in diversifying our energy sector, it will be much better and safer.

When countries are so dependent on fossil fuels, countries like Russia enrich themselves, and it emboldens them to take action. In the case of Russia, it’s full-scale war. I can imagine that if we cut the bloodline of the war [fossil fuels], if you cut it at the root, it would have devastating consequences for the Russian economy. It’s not a real economy — its bedrock is fossil fuels, and without them, they can do nothing. They don't innovate, they don't think about scientific discoveries, they would be stranded in this mindset of the 19th century.

I can also imagine that this is a very sensitive topic not only politically, because there must be political will, but also technically — how can you replace it, with which sources, and how quickly? For me, it’s also not a business question. It cannot be business as usual, because people are literally dying in Ukraine in towns that I've visited and stayed in. It’s a moral question of what can countries do to help Ukraine, but also themselves?

If I can be frank, it would be very stupid to say no to Russian fossil fuels but to use other fossil fuels in the future, because it can create these kinds of negative consequences in the future. We need to use this chance, because of the bloody war in Ukraine, as a wake-up call to say we cannot do fossil fuels anymore. This is a dependency that’s fueling Russia’s ability to wage war.

What about nuclear energy? Does it have any role to play in the energy of the future?

At my organization, we have an anti-nuclear campaign. We’ve been advocating for the phase-out of nuclear energy. 

Since the war began, Russia has seized Ukrainian nuclear power plants and we are now on the edges of our seats. What will happen? It's really nuclear terrorism, the seizure of nuclear power plants during a war. The US did a good thing when they banned imports of Russian coal, but 16% of imports for uranium come from Russia. 

They’re using their nuclear industry as part of the war. The world needs to reconsider its relationship to Russia in the nuclear sector and ban Russian nuclear fuel as a whole. 

Now talking about nuclear energy as a whole, it’s also dependent on fossil fuels. For me, it's very funny when people say nuclear energy is our way forward. It's not clean. If you take into account the whole process — the mining, enrichment, transporation, and then waste of nuclear fuel — it's very dirty, much dirtier than solar and wind, and it's still dangerous. Even though there’s been some discussion about “clean nuclear,” it still doesn't solve the inherent problem of nuclear waste and potential accidents. Nuclear cannot be part of the solution. It's not climate friendly. 

When we advocate for renewables, we can’t put our attention or our resources into these dead ends. 

How is Ecoaction working amid the conflict? 

Our organization has 32 people, and the first two weeks of the war were very difficult. We were preparing for this situation, and we had a plan for what to do if the war were to break out. We had a plan to meet in a location in western Ukraine, but that didn’t happen because it’s very hard to process things logically when you hear bombs overhead. So our team got into other towns in western Ukraine. We are working remotely; some of our colleagues went to Germany, France, the Czech Republic, and other countries. We tried to see what we could do. What could help Ukraine? 

We focused on the banning of fossil fuels and the nuclear topic because of the seizure of nuclear power plants. We have been focusing on the authority of other countries, what they can [do to] help in this regard, including the topic of energy assistance in Ukraine. 

It was a crazy situation in Ukraine. When our energy system disconnected from Russia, we have been operating in isolated mode. The connection to the European grid (ENTSO-E) was planned for 2023 and in 2022 there were plans for two trial periods. The first trial period of disconnection and operating in an isolated mode started several hours before the full-scale invasion.

What issues relating to the war are being overlooked by the global media?

Food security, which is one of the topics that the world will feel. There are so many agricultural exports like wheat from Ukraine. Also, the environmental damage. I have colleagues in other departments who are updating a table each day with new information about the destruction of coal plants, oil refineries, and gas infrastructure that are burning right now, releasing CO2 into the atmosphere.

Militaries themselves consume enormous amounts of energy. What work is Ecoaction doing on reducing overall energy consumption?

We see that when you’re talking about a switch to renewables, it's very unwise to talk about it without lowering energy consumption, otherwise the switch will be much more costly and it won’t achieve the necessary effect. First of all, there must be energy efficiency measures. We are focusing mainly on residential buildings, where we advocate for lowering consumption and advocate for less is better.

What message do you have for Global Citizens around the world?

As citizens of the world, we need to phase out fossil fuels as quickly as possible because we see now that the Russian war is being fueled by fossil evils. Without them, without the help from money and resources and funds coming from the export of fossil fuels, there wouldn't be this aggression.

We need to not only ban fossil fuels, but also use this opportunity to make our energy transition faster, phasing out coal, gas, and oil as a whole. It will be better for the world and communities.

This message, if it will be heard and if the governments of the world decide to phase out fossil fuels, will help Ukraine tremendously, because it will affect Russia. 

Global Citizen Asks

Defend the Planet

Ukrainian Activist: The World's Reliance on Fossil Fuels Enabled Russia's Invasion

By Joe McCarthy