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The war in Ukraine is giving the country's scientists a platform

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Russia's invasion of Ukraine is raising the profile of Ukrainian scientists and activists at the International Climate Conference in Egypt. U.S. climate envoy John Kerry, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and actress Elle Fanning have all visited the country's pavilion at COP 27. NPR's Nathan Rott reports from Sharm el-Sheikh on how Ukraine is trying to use the stage.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Ukraine's pavilion, its first at a U.N. climate meeting, sits in a cavernous conference room set up in the desert. While other countries celebrate their decarbonization efforts, their culture, their coffee, Ukraine displays dirt polluted by Russian missile strikes, a section of an oak tree torn by bullets and a cost of the environmental damages of Russia's war.

RUSLAN STRILETS: Today, the amount of damage is at least 37 billion euros.

ROTT: Ruslan Strilets is Ukraine's environment minister.

STRILETS: And while the whole world today is discussing reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, we in Ukraine are forced to once again discuss the fight against pollution. Emission on the territory of Ukraine in 2022 exceeds the amount of emissions in 2021 by 23 times.

ROTT: Ukraine's environment ministry has been tracking those emissions and environmental damages, part of a broader effort to hold Russia accountable for the costs being incurred. And it's trying to communicate that to anyone at this conference who will listen.

ADITI VARSHNEYA: It's really heartbreaking to see all the way that war destroys lives, including through environmental destruction.

ROTT: Aditi Varshneya is a climate activist from New York.

VARSHNEYA: And, you know, it's really important that they're calling attention here at the Ukraine pavilion to that connection between war and environmental degradation and climate change.

ROTT: It's a connection that Ukraine's lead climate scientist, Svitlana Krakovska, has been making since the start of the invasion. Last February, in the days after Russia invaded her home country, Krakovska gave a presentation for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. She's one of its authors. And she had a clear message.

SVITLANA KRAKOVSKA: That I see this connection between fossil fuels and cause of climate change and the funding of the war and the invasion of Russian war on Ukraine.

ROTT: That fossil fuels which are causing climate change are also Russia's chief export and funding its invasion of her country. The message resonated.

KRAKOVSKA: Not only with activists or scientists, but with politicians...

ROTT: She's interrupted by a marching group of activists from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTIVIST: DRC.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTIVISTS: DRC.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTIVIST: Say, let's go green.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTIVISTS: Let's go green.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTIVIST: DRC.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTIVISTS: DRC.

ROTT: Krakovska watches them go by and quietly shakes her head.

KRAKOVSKA: Yeah, it's a lot of fun here, but - well, actually, I understand that, you know, it's fun for many people, but it's not so much fun for Ukrainians, to be honest.

ROTT: Yeah. I mean, how has it been, being here and seeing all these people from all over the world?

KRAKOVSKA: I feel not very good, to be honest. So I feel not - I cannot relax. And as far as I know, many of our Ukrainians here. So it's very beautiful surroundings. But we, you know, we are too much deep in the situation in Ukraine.

ROTT: Krakovska's family is still in Kyiv, living without power. But she's here, she says, because climate change is a bigger threat - not just to Ukraine, but to everyone. Nathan Rott, NPR News, Sharm el-Sheikh. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nathan Rott is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where he focuses on environment issues and the American West.