February/March 1990 Issue #4 * ECOLOGIA NEWSLETTER Archive

February/March 1990 Issue #4

Wilderness Exchange: Hiking Expedition in the Ukraine

by Gerald P. Kruth Sierra Club - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Last August, I led twelve participants from the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Chapter of the Sierra Club on an environmentalists' visit to the Soviet Union. It was an outgrowth of visits by a Pittsburgh Sierra Club activist to Donetsk, our Sister City, and the method was for Soviets and Americans to interact in a wilderness exchange. The highlight of our two week trip was the eight days we spent in the Carpathian Mountains in the southwestern Ukraine, near the Czech-Hungarian border.

The Soviet participants were all from Donetsk, members of Komsomol, between 19 and 31 years old. They had volunteered to travel to Uzghorod to share the experience with us. Through our day to day contact, and a series of environmental workshops and discussions, we started a dialogue about private grass- roots environmentalism.

We explained that the Sierra Club was a private organization dedicated to environmental protection and wilderness activities. At our initial meeting, we presented the Soviet delegation with posters of the whole earth as viewed from the orbiting NASA satellite. The posters had been donated by the World Federalist Association of Pittsburgh. The Soviets responded with environmental concerns of their own, and budding ideas as to how they too can demand greater environmental responsibility from their government.

A series of challenging hikes, punctuated by dayovers, tested everyone's outdoor capacities. We had environmental workshops after each meal. We had brought along printed matter, on many topics of interest to environmental protection and public safety. Several participating physicians talked about various facets of the medical field in America. An engineer who works for Westinghouse Corporation spoke on air quality and forest management. We made frequent comparisons between our two countries' different systems, which have, rather ironically, yielded common problems. Irrigation problems, and overuse of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, were cited both in western Nevada, U.S.A. and the Aral Sea area in the U.S.S.R. Warning was given the Soviets on the proliferation of disposables which threatens to engulf American cities in a sea of garbage. Now that McDonald's with its throwaway mentality has set up shop in Moscow, they may be closer to that day than previously imagined.

The residents of Donetsk acknowledged that theirs is one of the most polluted areas of the Soviet Union. They know about environmental pollution. They know how it negatively impacts their lives, and the health of everything associated with such pollution. However, they do not have the ability to sue their government, which controls all aspects of production and public safety.

Our train left Uzghorod for Moscow at 3 A.M. Our friends turned out at that hour with hugs of joy, and shouts of plans for reunion in America. Since my return home, I have had several letters from my new friends in the Ukraine, which are most gratifying: "You must know that the Sierra Club already has many allies in the matter of defense of environment in U.S.S.R.". Also, "The days of the Soviet-American ecological hike brought us closer and made us a small family."

For far too long, the U.S.S.R. and the U.S.A. have been ideological and military rivals. The planet can no longer afford the ruinous competition to strip the earth's resources and honeycomb it with chemical and nuclear waste. There are many human problems that transcend boundaries, and threaten the welfare of all life forms. Competition and rivalry need to be put aside in favor of an accomodation and partnership toward environmental therapy. Our step last summer, toward understanding each other as individuals, may yet go a long way toward creating a new partnership.

In addition to his work with the Sierra Club, Gerald Kruth is also a member of the Rachel Carson Homestead in Springdale, Pennsylvania. They are currently planning this spring's activities to celebrate Rachel Carson Day, May 16 - 19. The guest of honor will be Vasili Peskov, an environmental journalist from Moscow's Komsomol Pravda who has suggested that Rachel Carson be nominated for a Nobel Prize in the Environment. Events include a visit to Conneaut Marsh to visit active bald eagle nests and waterfowl, a fund- raising dinner, and activities at the Homestead. Anyone interested in attending should contact :

Gerald P. Kruth
6660 Kinsman Road
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15217 U.S.A.
Telephone 412-421-4914

[Previous article]- [Issue Index]- [Table of Contents]

Maintained by: ECOLOGIA Last modified by: P.Ellison on 27-Feb-96