Briefing on key environmental issues, associated with Russian invasion in Ukraine 1-7 April 2022

7 April 2022, 16:54

Since February 24 full-scale invasion of russia in Ukraine has created multiple environmental risks, which are escalating and threatening to increase the number of war-related civilian casualties. The invasion has already resulted in thousands of casualties, including children, and severe damage to the economy, infrastructure, environment and the natural heritage of Ukraine. Atrocious war crimes, killings of civilians and mass graves were found in the territories liberated from the occupation. The shelling and bombing of residential areas of cities, dangerous industrial and infrastructural objects continues.

On April 5, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky called for reforms in the structure of UN bodies, which are proving their failure in the face of war crimes, unprecedented since World War II, and threats of nuclear terrorism. Earlier, the Ministry of Environment sent an appeal to 13 UN conventions demanding their suspension for the aggressor country and withdrawal of russia's representation in their governing and advisory bodies.

Damage to nuclear facilities, nuclear and radiation safety threats

After russian occupying forces left the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone on March 31, the State Agency of Ukraine for Exclusion Zone Management (DAZV) re-established communication with personnel and control over all facilities. As of April 7, enterprises and institutions subordinated to DAZV started to resume operations.

The situation in the Chernobyl zone remains dangerous due to the consequences of the presence of russian armed forces there. There are high radiation risks, explosion threats and logistical obstacles. DAZV together with the State Emergency Service of Ukraine and the National Police of Ukraine is working to restore safety.

Almost all DAZV premises and facilities, including offices in the Chornobyl zone were damaged and looted. The occupiers stole both Agency’s property and personal belongings of workers at their workplaces.

Fleets and special equipment of SSE “CEMRW” and Special State Enterprise "Northern Pushcha" (including trucks, tractors, fire trucks, etc.), as well as fuel stocks, were stolen, which endanger fire and radiation safety in the exclusion zone.

The unique radiological laboratory of DSP "Ecocenter" no longer exists as a single and functional complex, much of the equipment was stolen or destroyed. The equipment received by the company from Fukushima University during the implementation of the Japanese-Ukrainian project under the SATREPS program was destroyed, the cost of which is 6 mln UAH (~200 thousand euro). A mobile radiation reconnaissance laboratory based on a Volkswagen car has been stolen, costing 2.5 mln UAH (~80 thousand euro).

The system of physical protection of the complex of decontamination, transportation, processing and disposal of radioactive waste (KV "Vector") has suffered a number of damages. The office and living compartments in this facility are completely shattered.

Large-scale fortifications and positions were dug in one of the parts of the highly polluted territory of the “Red Forest”. Grass and bushes around the fortifications were burned. The actions of the occupiers likely led to the release of highly radioactive dust.

Spot measurements showed significantly higher levels of radiation for the areas where they were conducted. As of April 7, automated background radiation monitoring has not been resumed. DAZV plans to resume the operation of the ASKRO radiation pollution monitoring system as soon as possible.

The Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, which was captured by russian troops on March 4, is still used by the occupiers as a military base, and heavy weapons and ammunition remain on its territory. Employees of the russian state company Rosatom, who interfere in the work of personnel, are at the nuclear power plant. IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi has expressed serious concern about the extremely stressful and difficult working conditions of staff working at Zaporizhzhya NPP. The unprecedented situation with ZNPP personnel has jeopardized one of the seven integral pillars of nuclear safety and security, which states that "operational personnel must be able to perform their safety duties and be able to make decisions without undue pressure."

The territory of the Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology, where the nuclear subcritical installation "Neutron Source" is located, was subjected to numerous shellings in March. Search, detection and safe disposal of spent ordinance are not being carried out due to ongoing hostilities. The facility still has no power supply due to previous damage to the transformer and power networks. As a result of the shellings, the building of the nuclear installation itself, the isotope laboratory, as well as the pumping station and cooling towers were damaged.

Forest fires in the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone

Due to the lack of full control over the fire situation and radiation control, there is a risk of migration of radionuclides with smoke from fires outside the exclusion zone. Fires can cause risks of spread of radionuclides outside the exclusion zone and deterioration of the radiation situation in the territories adjacent to the exclusion zone.

Due to weather conditions, rainfall and high humidity, large fires are not expected in the coming days. However, with the onset of dry weather conditions, the likelihood of large fires will increase significantly.

Recent attacks on infrastructure and industrial sites

On April 1, russian troops launched a massive missile strike on the city of Dnipro, damaging infrastructure and industrial facilities. The city of Kryvyi Rih was also fired upon by rocket systems of volley fire, one of the missiles hit a gas station, and the fire was extinguished.

On April 2, the Siversky Donets River overflowed its banks due to the demolition of a dam on the Oskol Reservoir in the Kharkiv region. The water overflowed in the southern direction, flooding Studenok and Sviatohirsk. There is a threat of pollution of the river by municipal wastewater, organic matter and solids.

On April 2 in Mariupol Ilyich Iron And Steel Works (steel manufacturing plant of Metinvest Group) suffered significant damage as a result of artillery and rocket fire by russian troops.

On April 4, six tanks with mineral fertilizers, the main component of which is ammonia, were damaged in the Kremenets district of Ternopil region due to the fall of fragments of an enemy cruise missile shot down by air defence forces. Leak of chemicals has occurred. Tests carried out by the Ternopil Laboratory Center of the Ministry of Health revealed an excess of ammonia in the soil and the Ikva River. The residents nearby are warned about chemical pollution, fishing is banned for the time being.

On April 5, in the town of Rubizhne in the Luhansk region, where many dangerous industrial facilities are located, the russian shelling hit a tank with nitric acid, an explosion occurred with the release of significant amounts of nitric acid into the air. The population was warned about the chemical threat. There is currently no data on the causalities among the population.

On the night of April 5-6, in the Dnipropetrovsk region, russian missiles hit an oil depot in the Synelnykivskyi district and fuel tanks at one of the industrial plants in the Novomoskovskyi district, where six fuel and lubricant tanks were destroyed. The oil depot was also completely destroyed. As of the morning of April 6, SES units had put out fires at both sites. The russian Federation continues to carry out rocket attacks on oil storage facilities throughout Ukraine.

There is a threat of transboundary pollution due to the release of oil products into the natural water environment as a result of the shelling of the oil depot in Lviv on March 26. Lvivvodokanal and the Main Directorate of the State Emergency Service in Lviv Oblast informed the Lviv Oblast Military Administration on April 4. The West Bug River, into which oil products have leaked, is a left tributary of the Narva (Vistula Basin).

Pollution caused directly by hostilities

More than 1,400 russian missiles were launched at Ukraine, and more than 4,700 units of russian military equipment of various types were destroyed. Fuel spills, pollution from destroyed military equipment and weapons, as well as missiles and air bombs - all pollute the soil and groundwater with chemicals and heavy metals. This leads to the accumulation of carcinogenic wastes. After the war, some consequences for the environment will be felt for years.

With its current mode of military action russia is gravely violating international law. Pursuant to Article 55, paragraphs 1 and 2, of the Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions on the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I) of 8 June 1977, military action must respect restrictions and principles, which are aimed to protect the environment from a wide, long-lasting and serious damage. Such protection includes the prohibition of the use of methods or means of warfare which are intended to cause or are expected to harm the natural environment and thereby harm the health or survival of the population. Geneva conventions also prohibit harm to the environment as retaliation.

Damage to natural reserves and protected ecosystems

As a result of the invasion, our natural heritage is being progressively damaged. Today, more than one third of the total territory of protected areas is being used by russian troops in military operations against the Ukrainian people. As of now, dozens of nature and biosphere reserves and national nature parks have suffered extensive damage due to russian aggression. 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. Particular concern is about destruction of Ramsar sites at the coasts of the Azov and Black Seas and in the lower reaches of the Danube and Dnieper.

Part of the forests in Chernihiv, Sumy, Luhansk, Donetsk and Kherson oblasts are currently under the control of the occupiers. The forests already have a large number of unexploded missiles and ordnance. Historic experience shows that this is a potential threat to humans and biodiversity for decades to come.

On April 5, the private zoo "Feldman Ecopark" in Kharkiv was completely destroyed due to a new massive shelling of russian troops. According to the director of the zoo, the enclosures and the entire infrastructure were destroyed. Miraculously tigers and lions survived and were evacuated.

Damage to freshwater resources

During the russian offensive, shelling and bombing of cities and infrastructure, water supply, sewerage and communications were severely damaged, directly threatening freshwater supplies, polluting rivers that are sources of water for industry, utilities and individual households.

Wastewater treatment facilities of water utilities KP "Severodonetskvodokanal", KP "Lysychanskvodokanal", KP "Rubizhanske VUVKG", KP "Popasnyansky Vodokanal", KP "Oblvodokanal" (village Verkhnya Krynytsia Vasylivsky district of Zaporizhzhia region) were severely damaged. The wastewater treatment process is not provided for Severodonetsk, Lysychansk, Rubizne, Popasna and part of Zaporizhya, causing pollution of water resources by untreated wastewater. As a result of the destruction of the dam of the Oskol Water Reservoir and the flood caused by it, the Seversky Donets River is being polluted.

Black and Azov Seas

Russia has mined the recommended sea routes from the Bosphorus to Odessa and said it was Ukrainian mines. Ukraine insists on bringing russia to international responsibility for the use of sea mines as weapons of indiscriminate action, which is spreading uncontrollably in the Black Sea.

Russia's use of drift mines in the Black Sea was notified by Ukraine in compliance with its international obligations to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) during an extraordinary session of the Council and the IMO Legal Committee, as well as the international partners were alarmed through the International Automated Service (NAVTEX).

According to the Turkish Defense Ministry, the mine squadron command and the submarine defense group of the Turkish Navy are taking all precautionary measures against the mine threat that may arise at sea, using all available means and capabilities to neutralize mines deployed by russia.

Currently, sea traffic from all Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea is suspended. Dozens of commercial vessels remain in ports due to threats of being attacked by the russian navy, captured or detonation of sea mines.

In the first days of the invasion, five commercial vessels were hit by russian missiles, one ship sank, and two more ships were captured and brought into the commercial ports of Crimea ("Athena" and the dry cargo ship "Princess Nicole").

On April 4, at about 10:40 pm in Mariupol, russian troops fired on the civilian merchant dry cargo ship Azburg (flag Dominica, shipowner Malta), which has been at the 16th berth of the Mariupol seaport since its arrival on February 23. The ship's captain gave an SOS signal, reporting that one crew member was injured, there was a fire in the engine room. The crew of the ship has 12 people, including 1 woman.

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