Since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine started last Thursday, people have been worried about the devastating impact this could have on the environment. Explosions have been happening all over the country, and fire and clouds of smoke can be seen coming from everywhere.
Many are concerned about the devastating impact the fighting around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant could cause. If any artillery hits one of the four operating power plants in Ukraine, radioactive contamination could spread throughout the area and last thousands of years.
Experts worry that Ukraine’s industrial infrastructure, electric grid, or chemical plants could become a target in Russia’s attack.
Richard Pearshouse, the head of Crisis and the Environment at Amnesty International, told Grist in an email,
“Eastern Ukraine is full of industrial sites like metallurgical plants, chemical factories, power stations, and run-down mines. Fighting around these sites risks generating extreme toxic pollution, with severe health impacts worsening the already horrific humanitarian crisis for local people.”
The United Nations Environment Programme has taken to Twitter to call for an immediate ceasefire.
As hostilities intensify in Ukraine, @UNEP echoes the call of @UN Secretary-General @antonioguterres for an immediate ceasefire to ensure the safety of all people and the environment that sustains life on the planet.
— UN Environment Programme (@UNEP) February 24, 2022
However, these fears for the environment in Ukraine aren’t new. Eastern Ukraine is largely industrialized and is known as the country’s most polluted region. The region has always struggled with toxic waste from old coal mining, metallurgy, and chemical manufacturing.
The Russia and Ukraine conflict started in 2014 and has already claimed the lives of over 13,000 people. The eight years of war have polluted rivers and contaminated the country’s water infrastructure. Water supplies have been cut off throughout the years and made daily living a challenge for most Ukrainians. Since Russia’s invasion, Politico reported that dozens of towns have lost water after a bombing damaged a pipeline.
The high contamination of rivers and water supply is a massive threat to public health. Many of the mines in Ukraine are filled with radioactive material, and heavy metals fill naturally with water that needs to be pumped out. These mines have been abandoned, and the flooding will possibly contaminate the groundwater in the country.
Another issue is the leftover materials left from explosions. The unexploded ordnance left after war pollutes the water and air and releases toxic chemicals into the soil. This is a major concern for public health and will impact Ukrainian’s ability to come back to a healthy country.
Fires are also a concern. With climate change ever-present, a lot of the land is drying out, making it incredibly sensitive to wildfires. The country has had a problem with wildfires throughout the war due to sparked artillery strikes, and over 530,000 hectares of land and 18 nature reserves have been destroyed.
Dr. Leila Urekenova, UN Environment Programme Analyst, said in 2018,
“There is an urgent need for ecological monitoring to assess and minimize the environmental risks arising from the armed conflict.”
Ukraine accounts for 35% of the biodiversity of Europe and has over 70,000 species of rare flora and fauna. With war rising and explosions happening all over the country, the environmental impact needs to be considered. The battle is not good for the innocent citizens of the fighting countries, the environment, or the world.
To help Ukraine in these horrific times, consider signing petitions and donating money if you can. Many organizations accept donations and work with Ukraine and neighboring countries where refugees are going. Organizations to donate to include UNICEF, UN Refugee Agency, International Committee of the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and the International Rescue Committee.
Sign this petition to help Ukraine!
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