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“Fossil Fuels Fund Dictatorships”: Ukrainian Climate Activist Suspended from COP27 over Russia Protest

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Ukrainian climate activist Svitlana Romanko joins us after she was suspended from the U.N. climate conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, when she accused Russian officials of war crimes and genocide at an event on Wednesday. Romanko is the founder and director of Razom We Stand, an organization demanding a total permanent embargo on Russian oil and gas. “It has been very clear that fossil fuels fund dictatorships all over the world,” says Romanko, who has since left Egypt for her own safety. “We wanted to use our freedom of speaking and freedom of attending public gathering to confront people who came from the country which is in open war and … destroying our people.”

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StoryNov 18, 2022Ukrainian Climate Scientist Says Fossil Fuels Enabled Russian War in Ukraine
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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. We’re broadcasting from the U.N. climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh. I’m Amy Goodman.

A prominent Ukrainian climate activist and environmental lawyer has been suspended from the U.N. climate talks after she and others disrupted a Russian event here inside COP27. During the event, Svitlana Romanko and others accused Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine.

SVITLANA ROMANKO: [inaudible] fossil fuels [inaudible]. You are criminals.

CLIMATE ACTIVIST 1: You are criminals! War criminals! You are killing our people! You are shipping bombs [inaudible]. This is not [inaudible]. [inaudible] commitments mean nothing?

CLIMATE ACTIVIST 2: How dare you sit here in peace while people in Ukraine are dying? And you and your industry, your fossil fuel industry, that’s killing the people, is literally responsible for the war crimes! You’re despicable! You’re despicable!

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Svitlana Romanko and the other activists removed from the event, then had their COP27 badges suspended. Svitlana has since left Egypt over fears for her safety following the incident. She’s joining us now. She founded the Stand with Ukraine campaign and Razom We Stand. We last spoke to her in April, shortly after she co-wrote an article with Bill McKibben headlined “The Ukraine War is a decision point — banks should stop funding the fossil fuel industry forever.”

Svitlana Romanko, welcome back to Democracy Now! We’re going to go to this protest in a minute, but a quick thought on our first segment, the joining together of the issue of climate justice and human rights with the longtime imprisonment of Alaa Abd El-Fattah and the demand for his freedom, that has so reverberated throughout this summit?

SVITLANA ROMANKO: Hello, Amy. And thank you so much for having me here again with Democracy Now!

And truly, while our treatment in expulsion and the event at COP27 that tried to give some legitimacy to the murderous Russian regime is appalling, we also think of other activists today, earlier, and also activists in Uganda and Tanzania, who were multiple times detained for their EACOP opposition, and also Mozambique and across African countries and in many other countries where dictatorships are alive and well, and they all are locked in prison for speaking out. And people must have the right to stand up and speak out for freedom, democracy and climate justice. Our thoughts now, and my thoughts personally, go today to those activists who can’t leave their insecure spaces, who are imprisoned, and their families and friends.

And I would also like to add that the victory over one petro-dictator can spell freedom from petrocolonialism for the entire planet if we seize the moment to move away from fossil fuels. And it has been very clear that fossil fuels fund dictatorships all over the world, in many countries. They also fund destruction in my own country, because while I’m just speaking, 40% or even more of citizens of my country, Ukrainians, lost access to electricity, to heating of their homes, and it’s minus-1 degrees Celsius right now outside.

And I am with my team, as well, who works from Ukraine, who supported climate talks greatly. And I just can say that we have to stay united. We have to think of those of us who lost access to their basic rights earlier, and we have to do everything to fight dictatorships across the world, because as soon as we can end the dictatorships in countries like Russia and many other countries, the African continent, Egypt included, the sooner we all can live in peace. And one of the ways that we expected from this climate summit to happen was a phasing out of oil, gas and coal, strong language in the statement, which will help us and enable this fossil fuel revenue-empowered regimes, undemocratic, autocratic, to stop existing and to stop waging wars and conflicts and imprisoning activists.

AMY GOODMAN: Svitlana Romanko, can you talk about the protest that you engaged in here that had you thrown out of the U.N. climate summit, and why you chose to do that? You’re a longtime climate activist in Ukraine.

SVITLANA ROMANKO: Yes, of course. And what I said exactly, because I just stood up at the very beginning, and I just started speaking directly to the panel — this panel consisted of minister of energy, environment of Russia, of special climate envoy of Russia, and also some business and academia, and there were a lot of their representatives, and I believe also Gazprom and Rosneft, Rosatom representatives, sitting and just taking happy photos, cheering, before the event started. And myself, with other activists, have been just — have been sitting, as well, and watching them and thinking, “How, actually — how, really — how dare you to come here in the heart of climate talks, while you are destroying our climate and while you are destroying my country and other countries, and while — with your outrageous war? And you are destroying, actually, the freedoms and democracy all over the world, while waging this war on climate with your fossil fuel reserves and fossil-fueled war.”

And what I did, I stood up, and I actually did what every Ukrainian dreamed about doing that when they meet the same person in the same room. I just said to them exactly as following: “You are a terrorist state, and you are genociding, torturing and killing us daily for nine months. Your oil and gas is killing us. You are guilty in war crimes, in climate crimes, environmental crimes, and you should not be here, but in front of the international war crimes tribunal.” And then — a tribunal. And then other activists started to stood up, and they shouted that Russia is guilty in war crimes, and they shouted how despicable they are, until we all have been removed from this official Russian side event.

Also, just to highlight the importance of why this event exactly, because Russian delegation was present in big numbers, but we have never seen them attending public spaces or communicating. And this was the one and only official Russian side event, where we wanted to use our freedom of speaking and freedom of attending public gathering to confront people who came from the country which is in open war and broke all international laws and, in particular, rule of law principle, destroying our environment hugely and destroying our people and destroying, in a way, of just half of territory of Ukraine right now. And for me, it also was a very symbolic fight, and no regret related to that at all, because facing and confronting Russia, I, in a way, confronted an injustice on the planet and dictatorships, which are fueled by fossil fuels and which use their revenues to wage their war and conflicts against the peaceful citizens of the planet.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you so much for joining us, Svitlana.

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