The Guardian – Article: The ‘silent victim’: Ukraine counts war’s cost for nature

Investigations are under way in the hope this is the first conflict in which a full reckoning is made of environmental crimes

The ‘silent victim’: Ukraine counts war’s cost for nature

Investigations are under way in the hope this is the first conflict in which a full reckoning is made of environmental crimes

Toxic smoke, contaminated rivers, poisoned soil, trees reduced to charred stumps, nature reserves pocked with craters: the environmental toll from Russia’s war with Ukraine, which has been detailed in a new map, might once have been considered incalculable.

But extensive investigations by Ukrainian scientists, conservationists, bureaucrats and lawyers are now under way to ensure this is the first conflict in which a full reckoning is made of environmental crimes, so the aggressor can be held to account for a compensation claim that currently stands at more than $50bn (£42bn).

The environment ministry has set up a hotline for citizens to report cases of Russian “ecocide”, which so far number 2,303, and issues weekly updates of the tally. The latest edition estimates that in the past year:

  • Ukraine has had to absorb or neutralise the impact of 320,104 explosive devices.
  • Almost one-third of the country (174,000 sq km) remains potentially dangerous.
  • Debris includes 230,000 tonnes of scrap metal from 3,000 destroyed Russian tanks and other military equipment.
  • A hundred and sixty nature reserves, 16 wetlands and two biospheres are under threat of destruction.
  • A “large” number of mines in the Black Sea threaten shipping and marine animals.
  • Six hundred species of animals and 880 species of plants are under threat of extinction.
  • A third of Ukrainian land is uncultivated or unavailable for agriculture.
  • Up to 40% of arable land is not available for cultivation

Altogether the losses from land, water and air pollution amounted to $51.4bn, estimated Oleksandr Stavniychuk, the deputy head of the department of environmental control and methodology, at a recent workshop in Kyiv.

In part, this is effective wartime propaganda. At a time of heightened climate sensibilities, the Ukrainian government knows it can win hearts and minds by reminding the outside world that it is an environmentally conscious, food-producing, forward-thinking democracy that has been defiled by a fossil-fuel dictatorship that pays as little respect to nature as it does to the sovereignty of its neighbours.

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Briefing on the environmental damage caused by the Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine (February 2-8, 2023)

10 February 2023, 17:51


For almost a year now, Russia has been waging a purposeful, unprovoked, and unjustified war of aggression against Ukraine, causing enormous suffering to Ukrainians and catastrophic environmental damage.

On February 6, a panel discussion “Ecoterrorism: how Russia is destroying the ecosystem of Ukraine and Europe” was held in Kyiv with the participation of Tetyana Tymochko, adviser to the Minister of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources of Ukraine, and Oleksandr Stavniychuk, deputy head of the Department of Environmental Control and Methodology of the Ministry.

“Since the beginning of the full-scale war, the State Environmental Inspection has recorded more than 2,303 cases of environmental damage. As of now, the monetary valuation of the losses is held for different types of damage. In particular, the amount of damage due to land pollution is over UAH 845 billion, air pollution is estimated at UAH 998 billion, and water pollution is at UAH 56 billion. The total amount of damages is about UAH 1.9 trillion,” – Oleksandr Stavniychuk said.

Due to the Russian aggression, 600 species of animals and 880 species of plants are under threat of extinction. A third of Ukrainian land is uncultivated or unavailable for agriculture. Up to 40% of arable land is not available for cultivation. Stavniychuk added that a thorough analysis of the impact of the military invasion on Ukraine’s natural protected areas would be possible only after the war ends and demining is completed.

Ukraine implements the Green Deal even during Russian aggression. This was among the key messages at the historic joint meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine and the EU College of Commissioners in Kyiv on February 2.

During the meeting, the Minister of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources of Ukraine Ruslan Strilets reported on the cooperation with the EU, implementation of the Green Deal and Ukraine’s European integration in the environmental sphere.

“The Green Deal is not only about environmental policy but also about all spheres of life. We highly appreciate granting Ukraine the status of a candidate for EU membership and the fact that it is not only a symbolic gesture. Our cooperation has significantly expanded,” – Minister Ruslan Strilets highlighted.

Ruslan Strilets emphasized the importance of establishing the Global Platform for assessing environmental and climate damage caused by military actions. This initiative was announced by the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky at the COP27 UN Climate Conference. The Minister noted that Ukraine expected support from the EU in creating such a joint platform.

Nuclear and radiation safety threats

On February 6, Oleksandr Krasnolutskyi (the Deputy Minister of Environmental Protection) and Etienne de Poncins (the Ambassador of France to Ukraine) visited the Chornobyl NPP Exclusion Zone.

Oleksandr Krasnolutskyi told the ambassador about the consequences of the occupation of the Exclusion Zone by Russian troops and emphasized that the Chornobyl Zone needs not only restoration but also support in solving urgent problems that Ukraine cannot manage on its own due to the war. In particular, EUR 1 million is needed to examine the “Shelter” unstable structures.

“We have to ensure Ukraine’s nuclear security despite the war. After all, it is not only about our country but also about the security of the whole world. Today we are talking about it with partners from France. We look forward to fruitful cooperation”, – Oleksandr Krasnolutskyi commented.

On February 6, 2023, the rotation of the IAEA permanent monitoring mission at the Zaporizhzhia NPP took place. In addition, the IAEA missions were rotated at the South Ukrainian, Rivne, and Chornobyl NPPs.

Ukraine emphasizes the importance of the mission documenting all impacts of Russian aggression on nuclear and radiation safety.

As the Zaporizhzhia regional administration informs, the risk of an accident at the Zaporizhzhia NPP is increasing due to a drop in the water level in the Kakhovka Reservoir. As a result of the uncontrolled discharge of water at the Kakhovka HPP, the water level in the Kakhovka Reservoir is rapidly decreasing as the discharge volume exceeds the filling volume.

A significant decrease in the water level in the Kakhovka Reservoir has a negative impact on the technical processes at the ZNPP. A level of 13.2 m is the minimum for the water intake for the cooling tank. If the water supply is stopped, it will lead to problems with cooling the reactors and might result in a nuclear disaster.

According to the observations of the Ukrhydroenergo experts, the large volume of water is discharged through the Kakhovka HPP not because of its damage but due to the deliberate actions of the Russian occupiers. The invaders opened the hydropower plant’s sluices fearing that the Ukrainian military would force the Dnipro downstream.

The Ukrainian authorities plan to draw more international attention to the real situation at the Kakhovka HPP and reservoir. The only way to prevent the unfolding of a humanitarian, environmental, and nuclear disaster is international pressure on the occupiers to force them to close the shut-off valves and fill the reservoir.

Recent attacks on infrastructure and industry sites

On February 3, the Russians shelled Kherson chaotically all night long. As a result of the attacks, 3 fires broke out. One of the fires broke out in a shopping mall warehouse. The projectile hit the department with pyrotechnic products, so the fire was accompanied by explosions.

On February 4, the occupiers shelled several settlements of the Kharkiv region. As a result of the shelling, the city hospital of Vovchansk was damaged again, and a fire broke out.

On February 5, the occupiers:

  • launched a missile attack on Kharkiv, in particular, on the building of O.M.Beketov National University of Urban Economy in Kharkiv, causing a fire;
  • shelled the building of the academy in Kherson, causing a fire in an area of ??about 100 square meters.

On February 6, the invaders shelled the Nikopol district of the Dnipropetrovsk region with heavy artillery, damaging farm buildings, electricity networks, and a gas pipeline.

On February 7, Russian troops:

  • attacked Kharkiv with S-300 missiles, some of them hit the city center. 4 rockets hit a civil industry facility. As a result of the attack, buildings were destroyed, and a large-scale fire broke out;
  • shelled and damaged an infrastructure object of the Chornomorsk community in the Mykolaiv region.

On February 8, as a result of terrorist attacks on Kherson and its suburbs, residential buildings were destroyed, and power lines, gas pipelines, and the heating network were damaged.

According to the data provided by the SEI office in the Volyn region, the amount of calculated damage caused by Russian aggression to the environment of Volyn in 2022 is UAH 257 million. In particular, this figure includes the environmental consequences of explosions at an oil depot in Lutsk and the shelling of energy facilities in Lutsk and Kovel.

Large-scale fires at infrastructure and industrial facilities lead to air poisoning with hazardous substances. Pollutants can be carried by winds over long distances.

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