Rubbish piles up, and rats roam, in the Ukrainian city of Lviv

Heaps of rubbish cover the streets of Lviv. (Photo taken by our Observer on May 3, 2017).
Heaps of rubbish cover the streets of Lviv. (Photo taken by our Observer on May 3, 2017).

For the past two months, rubbish has been piling up in the streets of the Ukrainian city of Lviv. Towering piles of waste cover pavements, alleys and sometimes even playgrounds and roads in neighbourhoods on the outskirts of the city. As the days get warmer with the end of winter, exasperated residents are starting to have real fears for their health.

The Ukrainian city of Lviv, which was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1998, is known for its traditional architecture and historic town centre. Lviv is the seventh largest city in Ukraine and, each day, its residents produce 600 tonnes of rubbish. Almost a year ago, on May 30, 2016, four people were killed when a fire destroyed the city landfill site. The impact of the fire has since meant that the city waste management department hasn’t been able to deal with waste in the same way. The gap in services has meant that bags and bags of rubbish have been piling up in the streets of Lviv and its suburbs.

"A playground/landfill near daycare n°144, where children come to play every day and breathe ‘fresh’ air,” complained one local on Facebook

Some neighbourhoods, like the historic city centre, are regularly cleaned by municipal workers. However, the situation has reached crisis levels in some residential areas on the outskirts of the city where residents complain of the omnipresent stench of rubbish and rat infestations. In September 2016, a child was bitten by a rodent near one of these rubbish piles, according to reports published by local news site Leopolis.

A local resident took this photo in Levandivka, a district located to the west of Lviv, and published it on Facebook on April 29, 2017,

The FRANCE 24 Observers team spoke to eight people living in Lviv who posted photos of the rubbish crisis on Facebook. They said the situation had been worsening over the past two months and that they were worried for the future.

The wind picks up rubbish scattered on the streets of Lviv, in this video posted on Youtube on April 26, 2017.

Rubbish piles up in the city centre of Lviv, in these photos posted on Instagram on March 22, 2017.

"I feel like my building was built on a rubbish tip"

Our Observer Marina Karlovska, 19, is studying publishing. She’s been living in Shevchenkivskyi, a district on the outskirts of Lviv, for the past two years.

Before, rubbish was regularly collected. However, since the fire at the landfill last year, the city no longer has a place to store waste. In the past two months, the situation has become critical.

Rubbish piles up next to the home of our Observer, in the Shevchenkivskyi district located to the northwest of Lviv. Our Observer took this photo on May 3, 2017.

When I see the piles of rubbish on my way to class every day, it makes me sad. The smell is terrible and, honestly, I feel like my student residence was built on a rubbish tip. It’s not a great way to start the day.

I haven’t seen any rats but my friends have seen them. The air feels polluted and I go running much less than I used to because of the smell. When it starts to get hot, I think the situation will become unlivable. Luckily, spring comes late here.

I think that the city is trying to resolve this problem — there are plans to build a treatment centre But, until then, I’m worried this situation is just going to continue.

In Sykhiv, a suburb located to the southeast of Lviv, rubbish has been piling up since April, according to Nadia, a resident who spoke to the FRANCE 24 Observers team. Nadia said she was extremely worried for the health of her daughters, aged 15 and two-and-a-half.

“There is all of this rotting food, the nauseating odour of rubbish and rats,” she said.

In an interview with British daily The Guardian, Lviv mayor Andriy Sadovyy claimed that the waste crisis has worsened because some local landfills have refused to accept Lviv rubbish. He blames this scenario on scheming by his political opponents who want to undercut his support. “We came to understand that we could become overtaken by garbage,” he told The Guardian. “And that was probably the desired scenario.”

Sadovyy, who is an outspoken opponent of Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, said that this rubbish crisis was orchestrated as a way to pressure him and his party, the centre-right Samopomich (“Self Reliance” in English). “This is pressure on me personally so that I change my position and force my colleagues to vote in a way that’s suitable for the presidential administration,” he told The Guardian.

"Residents are angry"

Our Observer, Andriy Andrusevych, 41, is an analyst for the NGO Society and Environment. He has lived in Lviv for more than 30 years and spoke to the FRANCE 24 Observers team about the situation.

Political manipulation definitely exists — however, the real problem is that, for the past 10 years, the mayor hasn’t done anything to address this growing rubbish problem. The situation has reached a critical point lately because the landfill, which was located in the village of Grybovychi, closed suddenly. However, even before then, it was operating way over its capacity. The city has been promising to build a new waste treatment centre for years but hasn’t fulfilled its promises.

The landfill in Grybovychi (also written Hrybovychi) is about 10 kilometres from Lviv. Photo posted on Instagram

Residents can’t do anything except reduce the amount of rubbish they throw out. Some people do recycle, but it hasn’t really become a lifestyle here. Most citizens here are angry at the mayor, because they blame the city for this situation.

It’s rare to see rubbish trucks coming to pick up the rubbish. Sometimes, piles of rubbish reach two or three metres in height. There are 42 apartments in the building where I live and we share a few dumpsters. The last time that the rubbish was collected was about two months ago. Now, I’ve started bringing my rubbish to an area near the town centre so it will get picked up.

The city and its subcontractors now have to haul the waste produced by Lviv residents to other landfills in the region. There have been reports that Lviv waste has been taken to dumps in Chernobyl's exclusion zone, which is more than 500 kilometres away.

Lviv isn’t the only city in Ukraine facing a towering rubbish problem. According to official statistics, Ukraine produces 45 million cubic metres of waste each year. Only 4% of this waste is sorted and recycled. The rest is dumped in the country’s 6,700 landfills (according to official statistics).

However, according to a report by Bloomberg news agency about Ukraine’s rubbish crisis, there are actually closer to 36,000 rubbish dumps — both legal and illegal — in Ukraine.