Learning the lessons of Ukraine

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Image: Mstyslav Chernov. Visual interpretation of Ukraine Lab pieces, September 2022

'The urgency to learn from Ukraine is now existential for the rest of the world.'

Radioactive plumes are notorious for disregarding borders.

Ukraine has been often called a laboratory when it comes to global challenges in the spheres of environment, information, and security.

The site of the worst nuclear catastrophe in history, the primary target of the Kremlin’s troll farms and disinformation campaigns, the country to spark the collapse of the Soviet Union and to stand up to its neo-imperialist successor: Ukraine has been the first to face and, at times, set in motion processes that have worldwide consequences. 

Read: The Kyiv thickets

Read: Black, while, and colourless.

For the eight years that Russia has waged its undeclared war against Ukraine, the international community has been appeasing the aggressor while fearing a nuclear strike.


For those eight years, Ukrainians have been warning the world about a different kind of nuclear threat: fifteen Ukrainian nuclear reactors, six of them situated dangerously close to the frontline in the country’s south-east region of Zaporizhzhia.

The world finally learnt to pronounce the name of that region in March, when the Russian military shelled and occupied the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest one in Europe.

It has now undergone a cold shutdown following regular shelling. Its staff is working under the threat of torture and death at the hands of the occuppiers.

On 19 September, Russia conducted a missile attack on the industrial site of the South Ukraine nuclear power plant. The missile exploded 300 metres away from the reactors of the second-largest nuclear plant in the country. 

Radioactive plumes are notorious for disregarding borders: if an accident takes place at the militarised nuclear power plant, the consequences would not be contained within Ukraine. 

After Russia’s full-scale invasion has compromised the global system of security, the value of Ukrainian knowledge and experience can no longer be dismissed. The urgency to learn from Ukraine is now existential for the rest of the world. 


Ukraine Lab is an online writing residency for emerging writers from Ukraine and the UK tasked with exploring global challenges through the prism of Ukraine.

The thematic focus of the creative non-fiction pieces by Kateryna Iakovlenko and Jonathon Turnbull is the environment. They go beyond the immediate anxiety related to Russia’s nuclear terrorism and shed light on the environmental aspects of Ukraine that remain overlooked.

The Kyiv thickets drifts through the wild and weird green spaces in Ukraine’s capital that are brimming with political potential. Black, white, and colourless tells the story of the war-ravaged industrial region in the east of the country through the elements that shaped it: coal, salt, and gas. 

Ukraine Lab is run by the Ukrainian Institute London in partnership with PEN Ukraine and Ukrainian Institute. It is supported by the British Council as part of the UK/UA Season of Culture 2022.

You can read The Kyiv thickets and Black, white, and colourless in Ukrainian at УП Життя. Ukraine Lab pieces focusing on war will be published in MIR Online while the pieces tackling disinformation will appear in openDemocracy.

This Author

Dr Sasha Dovzhyk is the special projects curator at the Ukrainian Institute London and the curator of Ukraine Lab.