War in Ukraine: environmental impact

After six months of war, measuring the environmental impact of t in Ukraine is still in its infancy.

Targeted by Russian strikes, Ukrainian industrial sites have released substances that are dangerous for humans and nature. Biodiversity is particularly affected by the effect of the fighting: soils, rivers, animals and plants are already suffering. But the extent of the damage will only be known once the war is over.

In six months of war, Russia has lost 5,420 military vehicles in Ukraine, according to the American services. Almost as many abandoned scrap metal carcasses, sometimes in the middle of nowhere.

Although some of these tanks were empty, a certain amount of oil leaked out of them. Lubricants and diesel fuel contain lead and other heavy metals, polycyclic arenes present in all fossil fuels and a number of other volatile organic compounds.

The contamination of Ukrainian rivers and soils remains one of the main fears of environmentalists.

This concern is justified in the country, one of the most industrialized in Europe, which has a stock of 6 billion tons of liquid waste from mining and industrial activity. For the past six months, these sites have been frequent targets of Russian strikes.

According to data from the United Nations Environment Programme, the conflict has caused damage in many areas, with incidents at nuclear power plants and facilities, oil and gas infrastructure including refineries, drilling platforms, distribution pipelines, coal mines and agro-industrial sites.

Hazardous substances, such as solvents, fertilizers and nitric acid, were released from these explosions.

Poisoning the air

Faced with the scale of the phenomenon, the UN warned of a “toxic environmental legacy” for Ukraine and its region. The Ukrainian Ministry of Ecology speaks for its part of a poisoning of the air by particularly dangerous substances.

In addition, the Ukrainian Nature Conservation Group draws attention to the pollution caused by the sulfur contained in the bombs which destroy the seeds and roots of grasses with sulfuric acid formed on contact with water.

Risk for the biodiversity

Ukraine has many protected areas with unique species. The UNCG has drawn up a list of some 20 endemic plants whose preservation is threatened by explosions, the passage of military vehicles and the devastating fires that no one puts out in the combat zones.

More unexpectedly, dolphins are not spared either. In the Black Sea, sonar emissions from warships destroy the inner ear of these animals and disrupt their daily life. Nearly 3,000 cetaceans have been found dead on the coasts of the region since the beginning of the conflict, according to a count made by Turkish, Ukrainian, Romanian and Bulgarian scientists.

Ukraine is also a passageway for migratory birds, especially the shores of the Black Sea, which are a nesting area. Several nature reserves, located in combat zones, play an extremely important role in preserving the populations of many species of birds on a European scale.

For its part, the Ukrainian government is taking a daily inventory of the environmental damage attributed to the Russians and is considering seeking compensation for the damage caused before international courts. At the same time, Kiev has already committed to an environmental restoration plan funded by the European Union and other partners, the outline of which was presented in July.

This plan includes replanting trees and building numerous rehabilitation centers for wild animals.

Author Iryna Tessard