On 24 February 2022 the Russian Federation, using units of the armed forces, heavy ground weapons, including long-range artillery, missiles, naval ships and military aircraft initiated a war of aggression against Ukraine on land, sea and in airspace. The invasion has already resulted in significant casualties among inhabitants and damage to natural heritage of Ukraine.
According to the Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts, adopted in 1977, requires states in warfare to protect the natural environment against “widespread, long-term and severe damage,” and prohibits methods or means of warfare “which are intended or may be expected to” cause such damage.
Principle 24 of the Rio Declaration on the Environment and Development proclaims that warfare is inherently destructive of sustainable development. States shall therefore respect international law providing protection for the environment in times of armed conflict and cooperate in its further development, as necessary.
The International Court of Justice in the Advisory Opinion on Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons has suggested that environmental obligations – in particular the obligation of States to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not adversely affect the environment of other States – apply in the context of armed conflict, at least insofar as they are not inconsistent with the law of war.
Military actions taken by the Russian Federation are undoubtedly an unjustified and unprovoked act of aggression against the independent and sovereign Ukraine, as well as a violation of all existing norms of international law on nature protection, sustainable development, humanitarian law, basic norms of morality and principles of human coexistence.
In this context, we appeal for the exclusion of the Russian Federation from the International Coordinating Council of the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme and the MAB Bureau.
We also urge all relevant international organizations to take all possible action to ensure protection of critical infrastructure and nuclear and radiation safety in Ukraine.
Nuclear and radiation safety threats
On February 24, 2022, on the onset of invasion Russian troops captured the Chornobyl nuclear power plant and other nuclear facilities in the Chornobyl exclusion zone. A Ukrainian personnel of nuclear facilities was taken hostage. There is no more international control over the shelter and destroyed NPP unit. There are more than 22,000 spent reactor fuel assemblies in the spent nuclear fuel storage facilities SNF-1 and SNF-2 in the Chornobyl exclusion zone. In the terrible hands of the aggressor, this significant amount of plutonium-239 could turn into a nuclear bomb, which will turn thousands of hectares into a dead lifeless desert. If the occupiers' artillery or missile strikes destroy the nuclear waste storage facility, radioactive dust could cover the territories of Ukraine, Belarus and the EU.
High background radiation levels are being detected in Chornobyl exclusion zone since 24 February, because of heavy armored vehicles and other transport move over contaminated soils disperse radioactive dust into the air.
On February 24-25, 2022, during the capture of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone by the Russian troops, the radiation background was exceeded up to 7.6 times.
According to the data obtained from the Automated Radiation Control System of the Exclusion Zone, gamma radiation dose rates on 25 February as follows:
Fire depot - 9460, with the average annual in 2021 – 1900;
Yaniv station - 3460, at the average annual – 670;
Mashevo - 8040, with the average annual – 840;
Krasne - 3340, with the average annual – 720;
Zymovyshe - 8220, with an average annual – 780;
“Vector” - 2050, with the average annual – 130.
Ukraine has lost control over radiation-hazardous facilities located in the Chornobyl exclusion zone, namely: New Safe Confinement and Shelter facility; Spent Fuel Storage Facility 1 (SNF-1); Spent Fuel Storage Facility 2 (SNF-2); Liquid Radioactive Waste Processing Plant; Chernobyl Solid Radioactive Waste Processing Plant; Buryakivka radioactive waste disposal site; Radioactive waste disposal site "3rd stage of Chornobyl NPP"; Pidlisny radioactive waste disposal site; Vector Complex.
On February 26, 2022, as a result of the shelling in Dergachiv district of Kharkiv region, the transformer that supplies electricity to the radioactive waste storage point of the Kharkiv interregional branch of the Radon Association was damaged, as a result of which the integrated automated radiation monitoring system seized operation. Power supply of the radioactive waste storage point of the Kharkiv interregional branch was switched to backup diesel generator, but functioning of the monitoring system was not restored.
On 27 February 2022 around 00:20 as a result of missile attack powerful explosion took place in Pirogovo suburb of Kyiv near the location of the Central Production Site of the Radon Association (Kyiv, 1 Komunalna Street). Notification was announced by telephone by Radon personnel, who covered in the shelter. The surveillance cameras recorded the falling missiles. Radiation background as of 7:00 AM 27 February was in the range of 0.09-0.14 ± 15% μSv / h and did not exceed the levels recorded before the invasion, surface contamination was not detected. The release of radionuclides into the environment did not occur. However, it is not possible to say with full certainty that during such a powerful explosion there was no damage (cracks, fractures, etc.) to the integrity of radwaste storage facilities. Surveys will need to be inspected after the end of hostilities to prevent depressurization and further destruction, release of radionuclides into the environment and adverse effects on humans.
On March 2, Russian troops approached Energodar city and began to deploy heavy weapons aimed at the Zaporizhzhya NPP – largest Nuclear Power Plant in Europe. Local civilians prevented the Russian occupiers from entering Energodar and lined up as human shields. In response, the occupiers used weapons against civilians. On March 3 Russian troops with over 100 combat vehicles started an assault on Energodar city.
In the early hours on March 4 Russian tanks entered the territory of Zaporizhya Nuclear Power Plant - the largest one in Europe - and opened artillery fire at reactor Unit 1 and administrative buildings. Later, the State Nuclear Regulatory Commission of Ukraine reported that the critical safety systems of Unit 1 were not affected, no release of radioactive materials had occurred. But Zaporizhya Nuclear Power Plant is currently under control of Russian armed forces, 5 out of 6 units were put out of operation and switched off from the power grid.
On Sunday, March 6, the Russian troops shelled with reactive artillery the site of National Research Center "Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology", which houses the nuclear reactor "Neutron Source". The reactor is loaded with 37 nuclear fuel assemblies. Building, which houses it, was fired at from the "Hail" rocket launchers according to the State Security Service of Ukraine. SNRIU reports significant damage to the facility (the 0.4 kV substation was completely destroyed), the cooling system, buildings and the heating mains. Radiation levels, according to the agency, have not increased.
The SNRIU announced on Monday (March 7th) that the same shift of workers seized on 24 February at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant continues to perform its duties. SNRIU is not able to regulate the state of nuclear and radiation safety at the Chornobyl site and in the exclusion zone, as "the work of the automated radiation control system of the exclusion zone has not yet been resumed," according to the organization's website.
During a joint meeting with the IAEA and European nuclear safety regulators on Sunday, SNRIU also said the operations of the Chornobyl NPP was unstable as "only one of the three available power lines was operational and the backup diesel power plant has only 48 hours of fuel".
"Due to the lack of sufficient repair personnel and special equipment due to the occupation, the repair of damaged equipment of systems, which are important for nuclear and radiation safety, is not performed. Available information on safety parameters indicates a trend of steady deterioration of a number of indicators, in particular, the concentration of long-lived radionuclides in the atmosphere," - said SNRIU in a press release.
On March 9th Russian forces damaged the Chornobyl high-voltage power line which left the Chornobyl nuclear power plant, the whole Exclusion Zone and the town of Slavutych without electricity. As the military actions were in progress, there was no possibility to restore the lines immediately. Electricity supply is critical to safeguard operation of ventilation systems and cooling down of spent nuclear fuel. In order to power the Chornobyl NPP, reserve diesel generators with a 48-hour capacity were launched.
Other specific cases of infrastructure damage (attempted and realized)
On February 25, five explosions occurred with an interval of 3-5 minutes near CHP-6 in Kyiv, which provides district heating for several residential areas of the capital. Major damage was avoided and CHP-6 continues to operate. In case of munition hitting fuel tanks with heavy oil huge fires and toxic air pollution over highly populated areas could occur. Further shelling of the facility could also threaten the integrity of ash and slag tailings. The same concerns other CHPs in Kyiv.
On February 26, 2022, at 3:50 a.m. Ukrainian air defense shot down a Russian missile that was heading towards the dam of the Kyiv Reservoir and hydro powerplant, located north of Kyiv. If the dam had been destroyed, the flood would have caused catastrophic damage and casualties among the population of the capitol.
On February 27, 2022, the Russian military hit an oil depot with a ballistic missile in Vasylkiv district of Kyiv region. Fire broke out as a result of a missile strike. There were fires of 10 tanks of 2000 m3 of gasoline and diesel fuel on the territory of the oil depot near the village of Kryachky. Strike and blaze were recorded by surveillance cameras.Toxic products of open combustions caused air pollution over residential areas.
On February 27, 2022, as reported by the State Communications Service, Russian troops blew up a gas pipeline in Kharkiv, which resulted in a massive explosion and shockwave, which damaged building in the residential areas of the city. According to civil safety regulations, an accident of this magnitude is a man-made disaster, which means that it is desirable for the population to immediately leave the locations close to the accident. However, the population of Kharkiv was completely deprived of the opportunity to leave the city for several days due to the high density of shelling of the city by the invaders.
On March 2, 2022, as result of shelling of power supply was cut for the large poultry farm "Chornobayevskaya" of Ukrlandfarming Holding near Kherson. The farm was left without the ability to feed poultry and maintain sanitary regime. There are now 3 million chickens. At the moment, the factory is without electricity and is unable to deliver fodder. If this continues for another couple of days, the plague of birds will begin. And in this case, it is unrealistic to dispose of it. This can lead to the extinction of the bird and the impossibility of its safe disposal, as well as the disposal of stocks of eggs. Hazard of bacterial contamination can occur.
On March 3, 2022, a petroleum storage depot in Chernihiv was destroyed by the Russian military. About 08:10 AM on the Chudinov street at the territory of SE "Kombinat Aystra" six reservoirs containing 5,000 m3 of fuel caught fire as result of artillery strike. On March 3, 2022, in the village of Chaiki near Kiev, a shell hit a warehouse with polyurethane foam, and a fire broke out in a warehouse and in an adjacent office building.
On March 3, Russian aircraft inflicted strikes at the combined heat and power plant in Okhtyrka city of Sumy region, as a result of which the CHP was destroyed and district heating for the city ceased operation.
On March 6, 2022, the Russian Armed Forces attacked the OSCE Office building in Mariupol, which damaged the patrol center and destroyed the Mission's communications facilities. Two cars of the special monitoring mission also burned down. Occupying troops of the Russian Federation continue to carry out massive artillery shelling of Mariupol. Many objects of critical infrastructure were destroyed or damaged, industrial facilities with hazardous materials were affected as well. The city's power supply and communications have been disrupted, and a humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding. Russian troops are preventing the evacuation of civilians. On March 8, they began shelling Mariupol in the direction of the civilian evacuation route.
On March 7 two oil depots in Zhytomyr Oblast (in Zhytomyr and Chernyakhiv) went on fire after deliberate airstrikes by Russia as reported by the State Emergency Service of Ukraine. Two reservoirs in Zhytomyr containing 10 thousand m3 of oil each were damaged by the attack. In total, there are 9 tanks on the territory of the oil depot. The fire was extinguished and no casualties reported. In the village of Chernyakhiv, two half-empty tanks with a capacity of 2,000 cubic meters were at blaze because of the airstrike. There are a total of 17 tanks on the territory of the oil depot in Chernyakhiv. The distance to residential buildings is about 500-600 m. No casualties reported. The fire was successfully extinguished by fire fighters.
Consequences of infrastructure damage
As result of invasion and infrastructure damage whole list of threats and challenges have already emerged:
Damage is incurred to water supply and sewerage systems and communications, which directly threatens accidental pollution of rivers, which are sources of water for industrial, municipal enterprises and the population;
Restoration of water mains and power lines in areas of hostilities is often carried out with great delays, and in such periods the quality of drinking water deteriorates sharply;
There is local (but significant in its consequences) pollution of groundwater and surface water due to large-scale spills of petroleum products from blown up tanks and other actions;
The probability of destruction of tailings dams, sludge storage facilities, landfills, which threatens the pollution of water bodies and emergencies in the regions, is growing catastrophically.
Russian troops are attacking port infrastructure along coasts of Black sea and Azov sea and ships at anchorages, which leads to contamination of waters and spread of toxins to the sea.
As a result of the above, in addition to environmental legislation of Ukraine, the UNECE International Convention “On the Protection and Use of International Watercourses and International Lakes” has been grossly violated. The Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus are parties to this Convention. Relevant Bilateral Agreements on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses concluded between Ukraine and the Republic of Belarus and Ukraine and the Russian Federation have been established on the basis of this Convention. The State Water Agency and its representatives are responsible for the implementation of these Agreements on behalf of the country.
Risks associated with damaged communications, industries and other facilities that pose an increased environmental risk are of particular importance, because in the absence of free access and limited ability to eliminate negative consequences of damage the scale of the negative impacts increase every day.
Damage to ecosystems and plunder of the Ramsar sites
As a result of the invasion, our natural heritage is being progressively damaged. Today, 14 Ramsar sites with an area of 397.7 thousand hectares in Ukraine are used by Russian aggressors during hostilities against the Ukrainian people. This concerns the coasts of the Azov and Black Seas and in the lower reaches of the Danube and Dnieper. The Russian occupation forces did not have and do not show any respect for wild nature. In particular, the occupied since 2014 Ramsar sites "Kryva Zatoka and Kryva Kosa" in Donbas and the "Water-coastal complex of Cape Opuk" in Crimea were constantly used for military exercises. As of now, more than 20 nature and biosphere reserves and national nature parks have suffered losses due to Russian aggression.
In view of the above, Ukraine is proposing to prepare a draft resolution on the termination of the Russian Federation's membership in the Ramsar Convention and put it to a vote during the regular session of the Conference of the Parties to the Ramsar Convention in November 2022 in Wuhan (China). In addition, we believe that the Secretariat and/or the Standing Committee of the Ramsar Convention should immediately express their strong protest against Russia's aggression in Ukraine.
According to preliminary calculations, as of March 1, 2022, the aggressor is conducting military operations on the territory of 900 objects of the nature reserve fund with an area of 12406.6 sq. km (1.24 million hectares), which is about a third of the area of the nature reserve fund of Ukraine. About 200 territories of the Emerald Network with an area of 2.9 million hectares are under threat of destruction.
At present, the movement of enemy military equipment, shelling and bombing has led to forest fires, which only due to weather conditions have not reached catastrophic proportions. In places where fighting takes place, the risk of new fires is constantly high. Extinguishing fires during hostilities and in areas under the current control of the occupiers is impossible. The fires will result in irreparable damage to the ecosystems of these areas.
As a result of hostilities, some forests in Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy, Luhansk, Donetsk and Kherson oblasts are currently under the control of the occupiers. It is still impossible to estimate the losses on equipment and property. Already in the woods there is a large number of fallen missiles and unexploded ordnance. As practice shows, this will pose a potential danger to people for many decades.
Long-lasting environmental damage in Crimea and Donbas region
Already for 8 years now, Ukrainian land has been bearing the brunt of the terrible environmental consequences of the war and occupation in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions. Many environmentally unsafe industrial facilities have been destroyed by fighting or looting in these areas, forests are being cut down en masse.
Russia is under direct or indirect control of mass illegal coal mining in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, including open cast mining, as seen in space images. Chaotic extraction is being carried out, natural ecosystems are being destroyed and the environment is being polluted. This is an ecocide in its most brutal form. The nature of the annexed Crimean Peninsula is also being devastated by the deployment of military facilities, including nuclear ones, the destruction of protected areas and unique ecosystems.
Violation of environmental law in the Black Sea
Cases of Russian naval ships attacking two merchant ships (one Moldovan and one Panamanian) with the use of heavy weapons pose a significant potential risk of contamination of the sea with petroleum products and other pollutants. Explosions, shots and bursts of shells during the capture of Zmiiny Island had a significant negative impact on the unique ecosystem of the Zernov Philophoric Field, which occurred due to noise and other types of pollution. Another two two ships were captured by russian forces and hauled to the aquatory of annexed Crimea - tanker “Athena” and dry cargo ship “Princess Nicole”.
In the case of the Black Sea, there are gross violations of the Bucharest Convention for the Protection of the Black Sea against Pollution. The Russian Federation is a party to this Convention and also a member of the Black Sea Commission. In the view of these events we call to suspend Russia’s membership in the Bucharest Convention and to exclude Russian representatives from Black Sea Commission.
Since the beginning of the full-scale phase of the war against Ukraine, Russia has committed the following crimes at sea:
On February 25, 2022 the aggressor attacked two foreign ships in Ukrainian waters - "NAMURA QUEEN" (Panamanian flag) and the bunker "MILLENNIUM SPIRIT" (flag of Moldova) on a raid in front of the ports of Yuzhny and Odessa. One of the vessels caught fire.
On February 26, 2022 during the raid in the area of Snake Island, the Russian warships captured the rescue ship "SAPPHIRE".
On February 27, 2022 the aggressor seized two Ukrainian ships, the tanker “ATHENA” and the dry cargo ship “PRINCES NICOLE”, which had been escorted by the invaders to the waters of annexed Crimea. There are almost 50 peaceful crew members on both ships.
On March 1, 2022 at the raid of the Nikolaev port two missiles of the aggressor hit a tugboat of the Nibulon company. There was a fire, which was extinguished.
On March 3, 2022 missile strike was inflicted upon the cargo ship “BANGLAR SAMRIDDHI” (flag of Bangladesh) at the raid of the port of Olbia. The rocket hit the superstructure. A fire broke out on the ship, which was extinguished by tugboats. One crew member (Bangladeshi) was killed.
On March 3, 2022 the ship "HELT" (Panamanian flag), was fired upon and received a hole below the waterline. At 12:18 “HELT” disappeared from radars. Currently, all 6 crew members have been rescued by the Ukrainian Maritime Search and Rescue Service.