The Permaculture Response to the Ukraine Invasion

The three core ethics of permaculture can help guide our actions.

Ukrainian refugees cross border into Poland on April 1, 2022

Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images

In the face of injustice, war, and humanitarian crises, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and to wonder what we ourselves can do. Permaculture can help us to understand how we can and should react to the events in the wider world, as well as how we should behave and act in our own homes and gardens.

I have been in communication with Dr. Pavlo Ardanov, who cofounded an NGO called Permaculture in Ukraine that has been central in efforts to disseminate permaculture ideas throughout the region. He told me how his group has switched from their usual work to respond to Russian aggression, working as local emergency coordinators in the armed forces, as territorial defense, or as volunteers. 

On the ground in Ukraine, those who tended fields and sowed sustainable ideas are facing a humanitarian crisis of staggering scale. Through my permaculture colleague in Ukraine, I have gained sobering insights into the situation. The reality is stark.

“Our best activists joined army forces, territorial defence or help as volunteers, and with every day of this war we lose more and more of these change-makers. My best friends that we run community development projects together are dying, and I don't know who will be the next member in our permaculture community to die, and how our organization can manage without its best activists and brains,” Dr. Ardanov told me in his most recent email.

From the earliest days of the invasion, permaculture practitioners and activists in Ukraine have mobilized. They quickly worked to establish a "green road" for vulnerable groups fleeing the country—a network of LAND (Learning and Network Demonstration) sites, permaculture centers, and eco-villages in Ukraine and across the continent. Many permaculture practitioners across Europe are working to aid those fleeing the conflict and are offering refuge and sanctuary to those who have left the country.

The permaculture group in Ukraine has also fought to try to get medical support for regional hospitals within Russian-occupied areas, but have found it very hard to get help to the main places where it is required. Working at great personal risk, they are giving their all, often entering dangerous situations without body armor or personal first aid kits. 

“This is not communicated broadly via official media channels,” said Dr. Ardanov, “but we know and experience this from inside, as many of our permaculture members became local emergency coordinators.”

Of course, elsewhere, we all feel horror and are deeply upset by what people are going through in Ukraine. But it is not enough simply to look on. We must ourselves, wherever we live, recognize what we can do. In responding to this crisis, we can begin by looking at the three core ethics of permaculture—people care, planet care, and fair share. 

People Care

While it is important to remember those whose plight is not necessarily so much in the public eye at present—for example, in Yemen, the Horn of Africa, and elsewhere—the situation in Ukraine hits home for many in developed nations, who recognize that the atrocities are happening to those who lead lives very similar to our own. 

We all need to be careful not to "other-ize" those who do not necessarily have a similar cultural background to ourselves, and to recognize our bias, and the bias in our media. Just because we feel more of a cultural affinity to one group does not mean that we should treat others any differently. 

However, the stark reality of seeing people in a developed nation have their lives uprooted brings home to us all the fragility of the systems around us, as well as draws us to compassionate response.

Our response must not only seek to aid those in immediate peril, but also to aid those less directly impacted by the crisis—by food insecurity, by economic problems, and more. 

Crucially, it must also be shaped by a broader understanding, not only of nation-state politics but also of the environment, broader social systems, and infrastructural shortcomings, and how issues within each of these areas can best be addressed to bring a better, safer, more ethical, and peaceful future for all. 

All of us with shared ethical values around the world can help people in Ukraine by donating to aid organizations. Some may be able to open up their own homes to those in need. But beyond this, we can demand more of our elected officials and advocate for policy-making that aids both those in Ukraine and those who have fled the country. 

No matter how much we help, however, we must recognize that an end to the conflict is the only outcome that can really drive the change that people need to see. 

Planet Care

The risks of war to the environment are clear to see. In Ukraine, the existing conflict in the Donbas region already raised risks of environmental catastrophe in a severely polluted region. And now that's elevated even further.

But it is also important for us to recognize how our own lifestyle choices can impact the broader world, both in the geopolitical and the environmental contexts. As Treehugger readers, no doubt most of you will already understand the crucial need to divest from fossil fuels and to protect our environments for their own sake and for the future of humanity.

As Dr. Artanov urged us to consider, “Is Europe really green and sustainable, or is this just superficial, while in fact your prosperity largely depends on Russian fossil fuels? With every day of Germany's delay to stop supply of Russian fossil fuels, our country loses its best human potential and becomes more dependent on international support for its recovery.”

The more we in the developed world are able to turn our back on harmful and polluting fossil fuels and practices, the more, too, nations can withdraw their support for the Russian war machine. 

For our planet, for Ukraine, and for the future of all humanity, we can play a role in switching to sustainable, renewable, local, and ethical alternatives. In small but meaningful ways, our own personal choices do make a difference. 

Fair Share

Though we may not personally be putting our own lives on the line to do the right thing for people and planet, we should understand that we can look beyond our own selfish desires and put our ethics and principles above personal pleasure or profit.

Doing the right thing for the people of Ukraine, and doing the right thing for the future of humanity as a whole, takes a concerted effort. And sometimes it may mean, at least temporarily, understanding that this could change the lifestyle to which so many of us have become accustomed.

We have to be willing to give up some of the privileges of developed nations, bought through injustice. We need to learn to live within our fair share of the planet's resources.

Whether it is living through hard economic times as sanctions raise costs, or reducing our reliance on polluting industries, or forgoing personal privacy and sharing what we have with fleeing families in need, we must recognize that sacrifices may be necessary to buy the better future that all permaculture practitioners want to see.