New Brand of Activist Takes Aim at Ukraine War and Climate Crisis, Together

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BRUSSELS. French President Emmanuel Macron has just finished speaking at a major conference on Europe.

As he lingered on stage, soaking up the adulation and taking pictures with fans, he didn’t realize that two young women at the back of the room were staring at him.

“There are no metal barriers here,” whispered Dominica Lasota. “This is our chance.”

She and fellow activist Victoria Edroshkowiak quickly stood up. They clicked on the camera. They went straight to Mr. Macron, who greeted them with a charming smile, apparently thinking all they needed was a selfie.

But then they bombarded him with questions about the controversial new pipeline in Uganda (which the French oil company Total is helping to build) and the war in Ukraine.

“I mean…” Mr. Macron tried to say.

“I know what you’re talking about,” said Lasota, 20, interrupting him. “But we are living in a climate crisis and you have to stop it.”

Then Ms. Edroshkowiak, also 20, intervened and said, “You can stop the war in Ukraine by stopping buying fossil fuels from Russia.”

“Yes,” Mr. Macron muttered before being bombarded with more questions.

Even a few weeks later – this happened in May in Strasbourg, France – the two activists are still in a dizzy state because of this confrontation. Ms. Lasota and Ms. Jedroshkowiak have become leaders of a dynamic new wing of the anti-war movement, and a video of them lecturing Mr. Macron has gone viral, making them momentarily celebrities in France and in Poland, where they are from.

This is a different type of activist – young, mostly female and mostly from Eastern Europe – who sees the war in Ukraine as a cruel manifestation of the world’s dependence on fossil fuels. They have combined two causes – anti-war activism and climate change – to take full advantage of the moment when the attention of the whole world is riveted on Ukraine. And to prove their case, they confront the European leaders face to face.

They travel across the continent, ride trains, stay in cheap hotels, eat cornflakes and almond milk, trying to corner Europe’s best politicians and businessmen. While they may not be as famous as Greta Thunberg, they are made from the same strong fabric and work closely with her. Fridays for the Future traffic.

Their message, which Ms Thunberg and Ms Lasota emphasized in recent videois that mankind’s addiction to fossil fuels leads to suffering and bloodshed. They point not only to Russia, but also to Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and other petrostates with a long history of conflict and repression.

“These things are connected,” Ms Thunberg said. “The increasing use of fossil fuels means more power for autocrats. This allows them to unleash wars like the one in Ukraine.”

None of these activists were satisfied with the European Union’s recent moves to embargo Russian coal and most Russian oil by the end of the year “They want a total embargo on all Russian energy right now, which they say will deprive Russia of a billion dollars and bring its war machine to a halt in eight weeks.

This is a huge demand with far-reaching implications that few European politicians dare to publicly raise, let alone accept. Many people around the world believe that it is simply impossible to abandon fossil fuels. Eighty percent of the world’s energy still comes from them.. And Europe is closely linked, in particular, to Russian fossil fuels, especially natural gas.

But more environmental groups call for the same comprehensive embargo. They are worried about Europe’s claim that it supports Ukraine while continuing to buy billions of dollars worth of Russian fuel to help Russians make record profits at the same time that their military is killing civilians and committing other atrocities in Ukraine. Energy experts agree that something different needs to be done.

“Activists are right that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine should be a reminder of the urgent need to move away from fossil fuels,” he said. Jason Bordoff, Dean of the Columbia School of Climate. “But the harsh reality is that if Europe wants to get rid of dependence on Russia, it will need some kind of alternative sources of oil and gas during the transition.”

Ms. Lasota and Ms. Jedroshkowiak say the only solution is to accelerate the transition to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, and until then, more Ukrainians are dying unnecessarily. They organized protests across Europe and opposed not only Mr Macron but also Mateusz Morawiecki, the Polish prime minister; Robert Metsola, President of the European Parliament; leading businessmen, including shareholders of Total; and Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, who seemed impressed.

“These are very smart young women, very knowledgeable,” said Ms von der Leyen, who met with Ms. Lasota and other young activists in March.

Since then, the EU has held endless meetings about sanctions against Russia. At the end of May, European leaders scheduled another summit in Brussels. Ms. Lasota and Ms. Edroshkowiak saw this as a great opportunity to “grab attention”.

Born a month apart and from Polish middle-class families, Ms. Lasota as well as Ms. Edroshkovyak met two years ago at an activist summer camp in Poland, where they learned how to peacefully arrest and form human blockades.

The two have recently put those skills to good use by joining the blockade of Total’s headquarters in Paris. Now they were arriving in Brussels to organize a series of “actions” timed to coincide with the EU summit.

They were staying at a transit hotel near Brussels Midi Station. While Ms. Jedroshkowiak sat on the floor in their small room wearing headphones and broadcasting for the new Polish edition, Ms. Lasota sat at the table and wrote an email to Charles Michel, President of the European Council.

“She’s cool and I’m serious,” laughed Miss Lasota as she typed.

“No,” Mrs. Edroshkowiak corrected her. “We’re both cool and serious.”

The next morning, more than a dozen other activists showed up at the Greenpeace office in Brussels, most in their 20s and some in their teens. They gathered around a table littered with bowls of cereal, coffee cups, and glowing laptops.

Their mission: to hold a noisy anti-war action on Schuman Square in front of the headquarters of the European Commission on the eve of a large rally.

“What do we need for tomorrow’s strike?” asked Miss Edroshkowiak.

“Sunflowers,” someone said. (Sunflowers have become a symbol of the Ukrainian war.)

“Cardboard,” put in another.

“Draw,” someone else said.

Many activists were from Moldova, the Czech Republic, Poland and even Ukraine. Eastern Europeans tend to have a deeper and more intuitive connection to Ukraine’s suffering than Western Europeans, Ms Lasota said.

“Honey, we come from such different contexts,” she explained. “I come from a country that has not existed for 200 years. The countries closest to us have simply divided our nation and taken our resources and land. For us, the war in Ukraine is easily understood and easily felt.”

Mrs. Edroshkovyak agrees. She said that some German environmental activists, for example, were more concerned about the economic impact of the embargo than she had expected.

I’m like, wait, are you serious? she said. Are you talking about economics? And money? This is the language of lobbyists, not activists.”

This was stated by officials of Germany, the largest economy in Europe. they could lose half a million jobs if they suddenly ban Russian gas, which supplies energy to many German enterprises.

Ms. Edroshkowiak’s response: “We can create green jobs. That’s the whole point. We have to change the whole system.”

Most of the young people gathered around the table were women, which, according to Ms. Edroshkowiak, is also not accidental.

“What is this pretty young girl doing in the Polish parliament?” I’ve heard this all my life. I heard that I was 14 and I still hear it when I’m almost 21,” she said. “And when you face this injustice, rage grows within you. And you start to see that all these injustices come from the same thing: rich people who do not want to admit they are wrong.

— And what other collapse do we need? she asked. “As a Polish woman who survived Auschwitz once said,” she added, referring to the famous historian Marian of Tours, “Auschwitz didn’t fall from the sky. Well, wars don’t fall from the sky either.

“People like to say wars break out,” she continued. “Wars don’t just break out. Wars are the result of a political system designed for war.”

The next morning, the day of the big event at Schuman Square, Greenpeace’s front door continued to swing open. Young activists rushed past each other carrying sunflowers, signs and megaphones.

“I am very excited about all this chaos at the table,” said Pavel Rysula, 17, from Prague. He was one of the few young male activists at the meetings.

With their iPhones and train tickets, they have built their own dynamic community. Although many have dropped out of formal education, they read essays on social justice, learn the latest climate sciences, and write letters and articles all the time (for world leaders, not teachers). They have fun too.

“We are screaming. We sing. We are dancing,” Ms. Lasota said. “There is nothing more energetic than this work. It’s the closest thing to love I’ve ever had in my life.”

But, as with everything, there is a price.

Both Ms. Lasota and Ms. Jedroshkowiak recently dropped out of their university programs in Warsaw, causing stress for their families.

“My mother said she was afraid for me,” Ms. Edroshkowiak said. “I thought, mom, I’m not a drug addict and I’m not going to war. Don’t be scared.”

Ms Lasota said many childhood friendships had simply “disappeared”. One of her friends was so upset about missing her birthday party that they haven’t spoken since.

Everything will be fine in the end, Miss Lasota sighed.

A few hours before the action, the sky opened up in front of the European Commission. People crowded in the Brussels parks under the awnings of rain-drenched pavilions. Walking through the streets, the protesters were soaked to the skin.

When they got to Schuman Square, they found that it was practically empty. Nevertheless, they continued, lining up shoulder to shoulder, raising their sunflowers and their posters.

“Even if it rains today, even if it snows today, even if there is a storm today, we will still come here,” Ms. Lasota sang in the rhythm of an experienced speaker. “Because we will do everything possible to lift this bloody embargo and stop the horror that is happening in Ukraine and around the world.”

“Embargo! Embargo!” they sang.

The next day, EU leaders did not touch the issue of Russian gas, but agreed to an embargo on about 80 percent of Russian oil. Activists took it as a mixed success.

“The catastrophe was averted,” Ms. Lasota said. “But celebrating it as a big achievement is ridiculous.”



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