On May 6, 2017, about 130 of Jehovah’s Witnesses helped to clean up Bryukhovychi Forest near Lviv, Ukraine. The volunteers, ranging from 22 to 80 years of age, live and work at the Ukraine branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses, which is located near the forest. They tidied up a 50-hectare (120 a.) area and collected about 600 kilograms (1,300 lbs) of waste in just three hours.
According to Mykhailo Splavinskyi, a leading engineer of the Lviv Forest Breeding and Drilling Center, “Jehovah’s Witnesses were the first ones to support the annual cleanup of the forest, and they have been doing so every year since 2014.”
Why the Forest Needed a Cleanup
“There are two ways that garbage ends up in the forest,” explains Mr. Splavinskyi. “First, some people leave their trash behind. Second, construction waste and other trash are brought into the forest on trucks and dumped there.”
Garbage is a serious problem for the forest. “Garbage decomposes over a long period of time,” says Mr. Splavinskyi. Then it “contaminates the groundwater, leading to ecological problems.” Discarded glass can magnify and intensify the sun’s rays, causing forest fires. And broken glass and discarded syringes are a safety hazard, especially for small children. “These problems can be avoided when garbage is removed,” he says.
Cleaning up a 3,300-hectare (8,100 a.) forest is a challenge. “We have only five state forest guards,” he goes on to explain, “so we cannot possibly clean an area that big. Therefore, once a year we ask the public to join in a forest cleanup.”
Collecting, Sorting, and Disposing
Equipped with gloves, plastic bags, and rakes, Witness volunteers collect bottles, car tires, glass, metal, paper, plastic, and used syringes. As a result, observes Ihor Fedak, who works as a forester in the region, “the area cared for by Jehovah’s Witnesses is very clean.”
Although it is not yet required by law, the volunteers sort the garbage into categories—glass, paper, and plastic—which allows for recycling. The garbage is then processed by a local waste-disposal company. Since 2016, the Witnesses have voluntarily paid for the disposal of the garbage they collected. “I thank Jehovah’s Witnesses for helping us,” says Mr. Fedak. “They help us a lot.”
“Cleaning Up Is Not Beneath My Dignity”
The Witnesses enjoy having a share in the annual forest cleanup. They like to contribute to the welfare of the community and to a healthy forest. Volker expresses a view common among them: “Cleaning up is not beneath my dignity. Doing something for others is honorable and brings me contentment.”
Anzhelika adds: “To me, the important thing is, not who left the garbage behind, but what I can do to remove it.” Lois, who is 78 years old, also joined the campaign. She says: “Instead of getting upset about the garbage when you go for a walk, it is better to pick it up and get rid of it.”
“People usually see us dressed up and wearing ties, ready to share our beliefs,” says Wieslaw. “But we are also willing to roll up our sleeves to clean up a forest or to do other work that benefits people.”