#We Breathe It In

#We Breathe It In – a National-scale educational campaign against the harmful Ukrainian tradition of open burning of the dry vegetation, which poses a huge threat to the entire country being the cause of fires, air pollution, and health hazards.

Ukraine ranks 8th in Europe in terms of air pollution, according to World Air Quality Report 2020 and 5th in terms of mortality from diseases caused by it, according to the World Health Organization. This problem is especially exacerbated during the spring and autumn burning of grass and dry vegetation. No one knows who started getting rid of leaves like that, but the tradition of burning dry vegetation is spreading more and more in the cities and villages of Ukraine every year. In addition to health hazards, this dangerous tradition causes more than 90% of fires. In the spring of 2020, an ecological catastrophe occurred in Ukraine as a result of a high number of fires that were caused by the burning of dry vegetation. Kyiv was at the top of the world’s anti-rating in terms of air pollution.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources of Ukraine in parallel with some funds through its information resources regularly conducts basic communication on the consequences and tells about the fines and penalties. However, this communication was not effective because it had basic slogans and a form that is not perceived by society (including burners); did not provide a solution to the audience, but only wanted to make everyone feel frightened because of fthe ines; did not have sufficient coverage and promotion ecosystem which would be widespread among the nation. “Burners” did not feel involved in the problem, which remained highly actual: according to the independent research, conducted by Gradus Research in March 2021, 39.4% of Ukrainians continued to burn dry vegetation, and 52% of “burners” did not know how dangerous the smog could be for health.

That’s why we – NGO “Eco-Optimists” – decided to conduct a large-scale educational campaign and reach out to the “burners” at an emotional level. We were guided both by personal concern for health and our own experience, and understanding of the responsibility of each Ukrainian before a society. And we had an opportunity to attract big media to solve the problem, as well as our partnerships with leading Ukrainian communication agencies Amplifi Ukraine, Isobar Ukraine, UMG, Posterscope.




We wanted to talk about the negative consequences of dry vegetation burning so that Ukrainians would believe (!) and change their traditional view to environmentally friendly alternatives. This was not an easy task, because through communication we had to reach the least contact population – “burners” in the villages/UTS /private sectors. In addition, we had to work with a very ingrained habit/pattern of behavior that has been practiced for decades and is perceived by grandparents as a rule, as well as a useful rule.

Our own exploratory survey in Facebook-community in February 2021 and representative quantitative Community survey from the UNDP demonstrated the following most common myths/causes of burning among burners: “Always and at all times the leaves were burned and there was no problem”, “plants/cars produce smog and nobody cares”, “we don’t have any cows to give them grass?”, “burning is a good way in the fight against pests”, “we take care of the cleanliness of our yard than for the health of the lungs.”

We decided to conduct emotional communication and reach out to burners with a complex approach, so we divided the target audience into two categories within the project:

1. POTENTIAL “BURNERS”: Older population with a farm (age 35+, all Ukraine).

These are the burners themselves or the people who live next to them, whose behaviour we had to change. This audience is less accessible to the impact of communication, so reaching it was a key strategic goal of the project (both in terms of media and in terms of form/message).

2. AGENTS OF CHANGE: Children and grandchildren (age 27-40 with children, all Ukraine).

They are our agents of change, who helped us to raise the topic in general, and, most importantly, affect segment №1. This audience is more accessible, open to communication, more aware of environmental and health issues. They are one of the key levers of influence on burners.

Julia Karpushina, Co-founder and Chairperson of the Board of the NGO: “We believe that a global problem needs to be solved at a global level. Therefore, we carefully studied the audience of our ‘burners’ and worked out how to reach them. We decided to reach out to the elder generation through social video clips and educational spots on their favorite TV channels like Inter and Channel Ukraine, as well as by radio: UR-1 and “adult” stations. For offline communication we developed a composting manual and emotional leaflets / posters to distribute to active Communities in Ukraine and give a step-by-step solution to introduce an ecological alternative to composting. “Agents of Change” we ‘recruited’ through the digital resources like Google, Facebook, and a range of local leaders like Gismeteo, Megogo, Admixer, Starlight Digital, etc. We reached out to them through ‘young’ radio stations as well as discussions of the issue by DJs. We believed it should work, because according to Gradus Research data, 20% of people who stopped burning seasonal dry vegetation did so at the request of their children and grandchildren. We got a lot of help with campaign strategy, planning, creative, media negotiations from our partners – Amplifi Ukraine, Isobar Ukraine, UMG, Posterscope.”

The focus on solving the problem of burning − composting was provided by simple step-by-step instructions for making compost, which could be obtained in 2 ways:

1) Read it on the website of the project #We Breathe It In and, if necessary, download in the form of a pdf-card.

2)  Residents of about 100 pilot Communities received physical leaflets from activists we mailed to.

We’ve done the first wave of educational campaign #We Breathe It’ from 20th March to 30th April’21.

Despite the use of a wide ecosystem of paid media, the actual costs for the entire campaign amounted to UAH 400 000 before paying taxes: 63% for production of creative materials, 35% – for placement through Google/Facebook tools and 2% for the delivery of leaflets by Nova Poshta to the Communities. All other placement in Digital, TV, Radio, Out-of-Home, PR on websites and social networks was free of charge on a contractual basis, under a social quota, as well as on the media’s own initiative.

The campaign and its PR support were based on their own media: the website of the project #We Breathe It In, social networks of the initiating companies of the Project and the initiating people, leaflets.

Significant support was provided by earned media: posts and reposts on social networks from companies and people, articles on local Community resources.




Within one wave of the campaign, we were able to achieve significant results on three key elements – 1) public awareness of the problem, its consequences and possible solution; 2) a trial as burners’ attempts to compost; 3) and as a result replacement − a shift to a more environmentally friendly way of recycling on an ongoing basis. We can state it from the results of the representative study by Gradus Research in the cities 50k +/ 50k-, which we conducted before the campaign to understand the situation and test hypotheses; and after the campaign to define results.

In 1.5 months, thanks to effective communications, we were able to transfer the problem of burning dry vegetation throughout Ukraine from the level of an abstract problem, which for some reason did not cause any harm, to the level of danger that affects each Ukrainian personally. − 81.8% of people considered dry vegetation burning to be an important problem (as opposed to 74.1% at the start of the campaign). 59.2% of respondents see important initiatives to fight against “burners” (as opposed to 47.3% before the start of the project).

In addition, we managed not just to inform, but to change the behaviour of the main antihero of our history – “burner” − in favour of a more environmentally friendly solution − composting. 


Awareness of alternative methods of dry vegetation disposal has generally increased by 9% since the start of the project (60.3% before the project 🡪 69.2% after the spring campaign).

In addition, with one wave of communication campaign we managed not just to inform, but also to change the behaviour of backward-looking target audience − the perennial “burners” in the villages − in favour of a more ecological solution (composting). The number of individual composting increased 8 times from 6% to 50.1%. 

Moreover, 42% of those who stopped burning dry vegetation, did it due to the influence of the ad campaign.

 62% of the communities surveyed after the campaign (more than 200 communities participating in the project «Don’t Burn!»  from our CID partner) reported a significant reduction in the number of burning vegetation near their homes. 

Very important data was provided by the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources: the number of fires in the forests of the State Forestry Agency fell by 5.4 times in the first 9 months of 2021 compared to 2020. Of course, the final data of the fires’ decrease will be known at the end of the year, but for now a very positive trend can be seen, with the #We Breathe It In campaign joining in the results.

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