Olya Melen, an environmental lawyer, was awarded the Goldman Prize in 2006 for using legal channels to temporarily halt construction on a deep-water shipping channel that would have destroyed fragile ecosystems in the heart of the Danube Delta, one of the most valuable wetlands in the world.
At the time, Melen was working at for the organization Environment-People-Law (EPL), which immediately filed lawsuits to prevent construction when it learned about the project. Melen took the lead on the case despite having no previous courtroom experience.
“I became an environmentalist accidentally,” she said in retrospect.
In the eight years since winning the Prize, Melen has continued her legal career with EPL, focusing on a range of environmental issues, including an anti-nuclear campaign, air pollution and waste management.
She recently led a successful legal campaign to stop a wealthy Danish company from building a factory pig farm in a rural Ukrainian village that was opposed to its construction. She has also been fighting for legal protection for federally protected lands which are being flooded by a nuclear power plant.
Since the recent conflict broke out in Ukraine, the Goldman Prize has been in contact with Melen and we are happy to report that she and her family are out of harm’s way.