Ukraine's sombre pavilion at Cop27 reflects the pain and hope of its people

Country's first ever pavilion at the UN climate conference has been popular among delegates

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There are two things weighing on Oleksii Riabchyn’s mind in Egypt: the first is climate change, and the second, the fact his wife and children are back in Ukraine in a bomb shelter.

Mr Riabchyn, 39, is representing Ukraine at Cop27, where the country has its first ever pavilion at a UN climate conference.

Painted a sombre grey to reflect the war back home, Ukraine wants it to be a statement of defiance and hope to show Russia’s invasion will not prevent Kyiv thinking of tomorrow.

“It is really hard to think about the climate when in Kyiv my wife and kids are without heating and electricity and taking refuge in a bomb shelter,” said Mr Riabchyn.

“But we understand that we are not only fighting for the future of Ukrainians but the future of the climate. And the future of Ukraine should also be green.”

Despite its austere appearance, Ukraine's pavilion has been popular among delegates, with a steady stream of visitors taking photos and watching videos that outline how the country has suffered since Russia invaded in February.

At the entrance is an installation designed to reflect a shell funnel sticking out of a crater that now pockmark the country’s fields. Inside are 16 types of soil to underline the country's agricultural heritage. Visitors can also touch a piece of Ukrainian oak taken from a tree in war-battered Irpin that has pieces of shrapnel embedded in it. Virtual reality headsets allow people to experience the ruins of Ukraine’s cities.

“It has been absolutely heartbreaking for my whole family and my grandparents,” said Viktoriya Ball, 22, a member of Ukraine’s youth delegation at Cop27.

“They are doubly displaced during their lifetime because the first time was during the [1986] Chernobyl disaster. There is no end to the negligence to human life from the Russian regime.”

Ms Ball said there was a positive response from people visiting the pavilion over the past few days to Ukraine’s situation. The virtual reality glasses in particular have brought home the utter devastation wrought on the country’s cities.

Ms Ball, from Cherkasy in central Ukraine, said the war had a huge impact on her personally but she had tried to deal with it better since the first days of the invasion.

“But when I hear some of the personal stories and see the constant destruction on Ukrainian news it is very difficult,” she said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told the Cop27 summit on Tuesday there could be no effective climate policy without peace.

The pavilion is staging events throughout the conference to highlight the impact of Russia's war, with tens of thousands killed, cities destroyed and energy systems denuded.

Ukraine’s environment minister in October estimated environmental damage done by Russia was about $35.3 billion.

The pavilion is also highlighting plans to modernise Ukraine into a greener and more energy-efficient place when the conflict ends.

“Russian weapons are destroying wind turbines. They are using energy and gas to blackmail Europe. They are shelling our infrastructure thinking we will surrender but we will not surrender,” said Mr Riabchyn.

“We will rebuild our country and it will be the greenest country in Europe. We will win.”

Cop27 takes place in Egypt — in pictures

Updated: November 10, 2022, 7:12 PM