It will take decades to assess the damage, caused by the occupiers, to the environment and Crimea’s unique flora and fauna. The greatest attention of Ukraine and the international community is focused on the persecution of citizens and the transformation of Crimea into an “unsinkable aircraft carrier,” which threatens all countries of the Black Sea region. The unique and diverse nature of Crimea, which was considered a real treasure, was loved and appreciated, but there has been extreme damage to it by the occupying state.
If the losses from losing the industrial enterprises in Crimea, seaports and other infrastructure can be estimated, the damage to the ecology of the Peninsula can be fully assessed in decades and only after deoccupation. The consequences of such actions as the barbaric pumping of groundwater and the activities of environmentally hazardous enterprises have a long-term impact on the environment and a cumulative effect. And such actions as the elimination of nature reserves, which causes the disappearance of unique flora and fauna, can not be compensated at all!
Militarisation is the Main Threat
The main priority for the development of Crimea was tourism, which provided the preservation of natural landscapes and ecology, as they were the most attractive to tourists. The occupation completely changed this situation. For Russians, the value of Crimea lies in its geopolitical location, not its tourist attractiveness. Russia seeks to transform the Peninsula into the core of Russia’s military and political influence in the Black and Mediterranean Seas. Yes, everything that does not contribute to the realisation of this goal is superfluous and unnecessary. There simply cannot be a place for tourism development, preservation of natural heritage and improvement of the environment in a political system aimed at military domination over other countries.
In 2015, JSC Russian Institute of Urban Development and Investment Development “Giprogor” developed a “Scheme of territorial planning of the Republic of Crimea.” In the 6th book, which is entirely devoted to environmental protection, the following occurs twice: “Based on the interests of the Russian Federation in the field of defense and security, the boundaries of protected areas (‘specially protected natural areas’) can be adjusted.”
“Specially protected natural areas” are the Russian equivalents of nature reserves in Ukraine. This means that since 2014, such pearls of Crimean nature as Kazantip, Karadag, Crimean Nature Reserve and many others have suffered the fate of the character of ancient Greek legends, over which there hangs a sword of Damocles on a horse’s hair.
The emphasis of Russia’s occupation policy has already been set. The main place is given to tanks and artillery, and the environment is given the status of consumables. Even now, the consequences of militarisation are not hypothetical, but quite real.
The leading role in the destruction of Crimean nature was given to the Black Sea Fleet. The Black Sea Fleet leadership successfully fulfils this role due to the constant training of servicemen on the territory of the Opuk Reserve and other training grounds; the firing of warships in the Black Sea; and the maintenance of a significant number of military equipment, which is growing every year.
During 2014-2019, at least 89 cases of combat firing, practical bombing and missile launches were recorded in the immediate vicinity of the Opuk Reserve and on its territory. Such actions cause irreparable damage to nature, prevent the nesting of rare and endangered bird species, destroy the area of growth of rare wild tulips and threaten the preservation of the “Rocky Islands” national monument of regional importance.
If the destruction of reserves is the result of the activities and conscious policy of the occupation administration of the Russian Federation, the ecological catastrophe in the north of Crimea is the result of their inaction and failure.
Geography dictates the conditions under which the northern part of the Crimean Peninsula is extremely arid and, in fact, a semi-desert. This feature was changed due to the construction of the North Crimean Canal in the ’60s of the last century. The artificial waterway instantly became the main artery of the peninsula and became an organic component of the ecosystem and made possible the development of agriculture and vegetation.
The closure of the North Crimean Canal in 2014 led to the return of the northern Crimea to the natural state of the semi-desert. In 2018, the Ministry of the Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine published the results of a study of the vegetation of the Peninsula – Crimea is gradually becoming a “hungry steppe.”
The destruction of vegetation was a natural consequence of the closure of the North Crimean Canal due to the occupation. But the greatest negative impact was the indifference of the Russian occupation authorities to the ecology of the peninsula, which caused the catastrophe in the north of Crimea. The activity of chemical industry enterprises has depended on Dnipro water since their launch. With the beginning of the occupation, there were attempts made to compensate for its absence by increasing groundwater production, but the explored reserves were insufficient. Water shortages led to the release of toxic substances from the Crimean Titan plant in 2018, which led to respiratory diseases in residents, air pollution and destruction of nature.
Chief Consultant of Representation of the President of Ukraine in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea