Russian aggression in the territory of Ukraine has led not only to human casualties, direct destruction and economic losses, but also significantly affected the environment. Significant emissions of pollutants into the air turned out to be catastrophic as the total losses have already reached almost $4.2 billion. In particular, $1.8 billion is damage from forest fires, $1.6 billion – grass fires, and $752 million – burning oil and oil products.

As a result of hostilities, about 1.2 million tonnes of pollutants have already entered the atmosphere, including 430,000 tonnes of carbon monoxide, 700,000 tonnes of dust, and 40,000 tonnes of non-methane volatile organic compounds, as well as a significant amount of heavy metals and other harmful substances. This is evidenced by the analysis of the Russia Will Pay project by the KSE Institute team.

In turn, according to the State Environmental Inspectorate of Ukraine, in just 11 months of military aggression of the Russian Federation, the damage to Ukraine’s environment has already amounted to more than UAH 1 trillion 743 billion or more than $47.6 billion. These are only approximate calculations as part of the Ukrainian territories remains occupied.

Terrorist act at Kakhovka HPP

The destruction of the dam of the Russian-controlled Kakhovka HPP caused nearly $1.5 billion in damage to the environment, Prime Minister of Ukraine Denys Shmyhal announced.

The man-made disaster stopped the water supply to 31 field irrigation systems in the Dnipropetrovsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia regions. In 2021, these systems provided irrigation for 584,000 ha from which Ukraine gathered nearly 4 million tonnes of grain and oil crops worth about $1.5 billion.

The terrorist act at the Kakhovka HPP left 94% of irrigation systems in the Kherson region, 74% in the Zaporizhzhia region, and 30% in the Dnipropetrovsk region without a source of water.

As a result of the occupiers’ blowing up Kakhovka HPP and the disappearance of the Kakhovka Reservoir, all fish – 11,400 tonnes – died. In addition, the fauna of the reservoir, carried away by the water flow into the floodplains formed below the Kakhovka HPP dam, also died as these biological resources ended up on dry land when the flood wave receded.

“Total damages caused by the death of all biological resources amounted to UAH 10.5 billion,” the Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food of Ukraine noted.

The breach of the dam on 6 June caused devastating floods in the Kherson region, both in government-controlled and occupied territory. This forced thousands of people to flee their homes.

Damage caused by shelling

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky said that Russia has launched more than 6,500 missiles targeting Ukraine since 24 February 2022. Enemy shells that hit our critical infrastructure and residential buildings every day cause significant fires. This leads to large-scale air pollution with dangerous substances.

During the detonation of missiles and projectiles, a series of chemical compounds are formed – carbon monoxide, brown gas, nitrogen dioxide, formaldehyde, etc. During the explosion, all substances are completely oxidised, and the products of the chemical reaction are released into the atmosphere.

The State Environmental Inspectorate of Ukraine explains that pollutants, in particular, metal and chemical residues from projectiles, get into the soil, and later – into groundwater.

For example, the melange substance found in Russian missiles, when it gets into water, causes a reaction with the release of a large amount of highly toxic nitrogen oxide. This process is extremely harmful to soil and all living things that are in it.

War also contributes to the release of greenhouse gases, particularly methane from a damaged gas pipeline. The emission of one tonne of methane is equivalent to the emission of more than 30 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

A separate topic is mined territories. According to the 1st Demine Ukraine Forum, 174,000 square kilometres of Ukrainian land are currently potentially mined and contaminated by war. After all, mine explosions lead to soil contamination with heavy metals – lead, strontium, titanium, cadmium, and nickel. This makes soil dangerous, and in some cases, unsuitable for further agricultural use.

According to experts’ estimates, demining Ukrainian land already requires $37 billion.

Hazardous industrial waste

The environmental danger Ukraine faces as a result of the armed conflict is also exacerbated by the country’s industrial background. Our country is one of Europe’s most industrialised countries which stores six billion tonnes of liquid waste generated in coal mines, chemical plants, and other heavy industry sectors.

In total, there are 465 storage facilities in the country which hold more than six billion tonnes of liquid waste. Two hundred of them are located in the east of Ukraine, where these extremely sensitive objects constantly come under Russian fire.

Europe’s largest nuclear power plant is also located in Ukraine, in the city of Zaporizhzhia, and Ukraine’s industry creates almost 29% of its gross domestic product. Currently, the ZNPP is occupied by the Russians who have been blackmailing the whole world with a nuclear disaster for many months.

European biodiversity dying from enemy equipment

The KSE Institute reports forest and grass fires caused by military action turn out to be the main source of emissions. According to the Zoї Environment Network and the Regional Eastern European Fire Monitoring Center, their volume amounts to 46,600 ha and more than 471,000 ha, respectively.

In addition, significant damage to the surface layer of soil is currently occurring in large areas of Ukraine as a result of the construction of fortifications, exploding and burning ammunition, military maneuvers, etc. Therefore, 186,000 square kilometers of land, accounting for almost 31% of Ukraine’s territory, are at risk of damage and pollution. Of these, more than 20,000 square kilometers are damaged by more than 75%. The territories of the Donetsk, Kharkiv, and Zaporizhzhia regions suffered the greatest destruction.

The total losses caused by the damage to territories and disturbance of soil as a result of military operations are estimated at $9.8 billion. This jeopardises the use of damaged land and requires reclamation, demining, and disposal of munitions.

Destruction of wildlife

“From the first days of the Russian invasion, we have been recording all the damage they are causing to the Ukrainian environment. We can already talk about 257 cases of ecocide. These are the explosions of fuel and lubricant depots, and oil product storages with corresponding consequences for the environment. These include airstrikes on enterprises that use dangerous chemicals in production. This is the damage and destruction of treatment facilities, spilling of sewage into our reservoirs, as well as damage to soil surface, forest fires – especially in the nature reserves,” said Ruslan Strilets, Minister of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources of Ukraine.

He emphasised that, in general, almost three million hectares of forest in Ukraine had been affected by the war since the beginning of the Russian full-scale invasion. Thousands of plant species, which are in the Red Data Book of Ukraine and protected by law, suffer damage. Fighting disturbs the wildlife. Animals either die or try to escape from hot spots.

The Russian Federation conducts military operations in protected territories of international and European importance, thereby destroying the habitats of rare and endemic species. This can change the behaviour of birds, including their migration. In general, 20% of all protected areas of Ukraine remain in danger posed by the actions of the occupiers.

“When Russian troops began to use Kryva Kosa in (the) Donetsk region for landing operations in 2015, all bird diversity disappeared there. Although before that, 3,000 pairs of Red Data Book Caspian gulls nested en masse on the coast. It was their largest colony in Europe,” stressed Ruslan Strilets, Minister of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources of Ukraine.

Environmental pollution has no borders

The Ukrainian ecosystem is of great importance for Europe:

  • Ukraine comprises 35% of Europe’s biodiversity
  • More than 70,000 biological species live in Ukraine
  • Natural vegetation and cultivated natural vegetation (for example, well-kept pastures and hedges) cover 29% of Ukraine’s territory
  • Forests cover 16% of Ukraine’s territory
  • Almost 63,000 rivers flow through Ukraine
  • 11% of the Carpathian Mountains range is located in Ukraine’s territory where a third of all plant species in Europe grow

The war in Ukraine affects not only global food security but entails consequences for all countries. After all, polluted air has no borders. Emissions into the atmospheric air, caused by the military aggression of the Russian Federation in the territory of Ukraine, travel, settle, and have an impact on the territories of other states, sometimes at a distance of thousands of kilometres.

Natalia Tolub

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