A top Ukrainian lawmaker described the worst environmental threats the country now faces as a result of the full-scale Russian invasion.
Oleh Bondarenko, lawmaker and head of the Parliamentary Committee on Environmental Policy and Nature Management, has accused the occupying forces of committing deliberate acts of ecocide.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with Kyiv Post, he outlined the seven biggest ecological threats including radioactive leakage, deforestation and air and river pollution.
The most significant environmental risk is radiation pollution and the uncontrolled leakage of radioactive substances from the Chornobyl and Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plants.
“After the Russians seized the plants [in early March], I said back then that the Russian authorities did not understand what they were doing,” explained Bondarenko..
“If there is an uncontrolled nuclear reaction, even an indirect hit to the plant that will cause an explosion, the radioactive cloud can cover the territory of Ukraine and the south of the Russian Federation, Belarus, and the whole of Europe.
“It will affect a large part of the world.”
According to Bondarenko, due to the war more than 4.6 million people in Ukraine have problems with access to drinking water, and 1.4 million Ukrainians do not have access to safe drinking water at all.
The destruction of water treatment infrastructure means there is a risk of chemicals and other toxic materials entering the water supply.
Toxic chemicals specifically generated by the conflict can also make their way into rivers, destroying the ecosystems they contain. These can come from remnants of explosives, submerged enemy equipment and tanks, all of which will lead to water pollution.
“As a result of the war, explosions, the burning of gas stations and oil depots [targeted by Russian missiles] can lead to significant air pollution in certain regions. The air would be so polluted with chemicals that it would lead to an environmental disaster,” Bondarenko said.
Soil contamination with fuels and lubricants and other petroleum products occurs as a result of movement and damage of the land by military equipment. In soils impregnated with fuels and lubricants, water permeability decreases, oxygen is displaced, biochemical and microbiological processes are disturbed.
“The same pollution applies to soils which cannot be plowed and planted for any crops which can happen in any territory of Ukraine,” the head of the committee noted.
As a result of the full-scale Russian invasion, almost a third of the entire forested area of Ukraine has suffered: The number of fires has increased significantly.
The damage caused to forests in Ukraine alone comes to about $370 million or Hr 14 billion.
Destruction of Ukrainian nature reserves
Bondarenko noted that the possible loss of certain areas of environmental importance for Ukraine is a separate issue. The potential destruction of the Askania-Nova Biosphere Reserve in the Kherson region and damage caused to the Black Sea Biosphere Reserve are particular areas of concern.
“Such damage cannot even be calculated in accordance with any methodology. No methods in the world enable the calculation of a reduction in the natural reserves in such volumes. Biosphere reserves are being destroyed in hostilities, which is the most significant environmental damage for Ukraine,” he said.
Ecocide on occupied territories, including Crimea
There are many cases of environmental damage which cannot be recorded because it has happened where there isn’t access because of illegal occupation or hostilities.
The total damage caused to the ecology of Ukraine will only be discovered once all occupied territories have been liberated.
“I am sure that illegal mining took place in the Donetsk and Luhansk Regions, parts of the Kharkiv Region, and in Crimea. We still need to fully understand how this is calculated,” Bondareko said.
According to him, the estimated losses will run into trillions of hryvnias.