Briefing on the environmental damage caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine (8-14 April 2022)

14 April 2022, 19:29
News

The full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine has claimed thousands of lives, causing serious damage to Ukraine's economy, infrastructure, natural heritage, and environment. War-related pollution has a negative transboundary environmental impact on other countries in the region. Some risks (including nuclear) threaten the environment on a continental and global scale.

On 11 April 2022, participants of the meeting of the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe condemned Russia's barbaric actions in the war against Ukraine, accompanied by humanitarian catastrophe, nature’s mass destruction and pollution of the environment. In her speech, Deputy Minister of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources of Ukraine for European Integration Iryna Stavchuk stressed that Russia's invasion undermined all foundations of international law and deliberately created environmental hazards. 

The Government of Ukraine records the occupiers' crimes against the environment and will use every opportunity to bring the aggressor country to justice, in particular through the mechanisms of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. 

Anyone can confidentially report the crimes against the environment to the special task force of the Ministry of the Environmental Protection and Natural Resources of Ukraine that collects evidence to file the lawsuits with the UN International Court of Justice for damages by the aggressor country. Please visit  https://www.saveecobot.com/features/environmental-crimes 

Nuclear and radiation safety threats

In early April, the State Agency of Ukraine for Exclusion Zone Management (DAZV) regained control over all Chornobyl nuclear power plant facilities. The infrastructure restoration and power plant staff rotation are being carried out.

Before the war, an automated radiation monitoring system operated on the territory of the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone. This system monitored the power of the equivalent dose of gamma radiation throughout the Exclusion Zone at 39 stationary units in real-time. As a result of the Russian aggression, DSP "Ecocenter" was looted. The occupiers confiscated the server rooms engaged in the maintenance and processing of this information. DAZV plans to resume the operations of the monitoring system of radiation pollution in the Exclusion Zone as soon as possible.   

The central analytical laboratory in DSP "Ecocenter" has been destroyed. Russians broke into the storage of ionizing radiation sources containing examples of radioactive solutions and calibration sources.

The occupiers stole and damaged 133 radiation sources with a total activity of about 7 million Becquerels. This is comparable to 700 kg of radioactive waste with beta and gamma radiation. Even a small part of this activity is deadly if handled unprofessionally and uncontrollably. The location of the stolen radiation sources is currently unknown. 

The Chornobyl NPP Security Institute offices and laboratory were also looted and destroyed by Russian invaders. These laboratories contained the sources of ionizing radiation and samples of fuel-containing materials from the Chornobyl Shelter, which were used for scientific research purposes. The location of these materials is also unknown.

The Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant was captured on 4 March 2022 and is still controlled by the Russian military. All power units of the station are serviced by Ukrainian personnel. The power plant staff rotation takes place regularly. The power plant staff is forced to align all technical decisions regarding the station with the Russian military commander and Rosatom employees.

During the shelling of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, Russian invaders damaged a number of its facilities, causing losses of UAH 18.3 billion according to preliminary calculations.

The Ministry of Energy of Ukraine and the Energoatom’s management have repeatedly appealed to the international community highlighting that the presence of the Russian military at the nuclear facility and the interference of Rosatom representatives in the plant’s operation is unacceptable.

Recent attacks on infrastructure and industrial sites

On 9 April, the Russians hit a tank with 4 tons of non-concentrated nitric acid near the town of Rubizhne (Luhansk region). The attack caused an explosion releasing significant amounts of nitric acid into the air. The poisonous cloud was carried away by the wind towards the positions of Russian troops near the villages of Kudryashivka and Varvarivka. There are no reports of civilian casualties.

On 9 April, Russian troops shelled the town of Lysychansk in the Luhansk region. The attack caused a fire at a gas station. It was impossible to put out the fire due to constant shelling.

On 10 April, Russian troops launched numerous missile strikes on the city of Dnipro and the Dnipropetrovsk region, one of Ukraine's most developed industrial centres. The attacks damaged infrastructure and industrial facilities. The Dnipro airport has been destroyed.

On 11 April, the State Ecological Inspectorate of the Polissya District received a report from law enforcement officers about the depressurization as a result of the explosion of the “Samara-West” oil pipeline on the territory of the Ovruch community in the village of Rudnya, Zhytomyr Region. State inspectors and laboratory specialists arriving at the scene recorded the depressurization of the pipeline and spill of diesel fuel. Sampling and measurements of contaminated areas were carried out. Upon completion of laboratory tests, specialists will calculate the damage to the environment and will send the relevant reports to the national police.

On the night of April 12, the Russian occupiers launched a missile strike on an oil depot on the territory of a military airfield in the Khmelnytsky region. As a result of the attack a fire broke out, which was extinguished by SES forces.

About 4 million chickens have already died at the Chornobayivska poultry farm in the Kherson region, one of the largest and most modern chicken eggs production enterprises in Europe. As a result of the Russian shelling, the electricity supply was cut off, leaving the poultry farm unable to feed birds and export its production.

Despite the danger, and under the occupiers' fire, the poultry farm employees managed to give away about 90,000 chickens and more than 1.4 million eggs to the local citizens and neighboring farms. The poultry farm workers buried dead birds, trying to avoid the danger of bacterial contamination, to protect groundwater and soil from contamination.

The village of Demydiv (Vyshhorod district, Kyiv region) is still under threat of flooding. As a result of the destruction of the dam by the occupiers, water from the Kyiv Reservoir is flooding the Irpin River.

Pollution caused directly by hostilities

Russian troops use incendiary munitions with white phosphorus banned by international law. In particular, on 9 April, the cities of Mariupol, Avdiivka, Maryinka, Vuhledar, Slovyansk, Pokrovsk, Toretsk, Solodke, Novomykhailivka, Troitske, Stepove, and Katerynivka were bombed with white phosphorus munitions. Such attacks pose a threat of large-scale fires and chemical contamination of the soil.

On 11 April, Russian troops used a poisonous substance of unknown origin dropped from an enemy UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) against the Ukrainian military and civilians in the city of Mariupol. The victims have respiratory failure and vestibule-atactic syndrome. Ukraine's military leadership is currently verifying information about the use of chemical weapons by the Russian occupiers in Mariupol.

Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, the Russian military has fired more than 1,500 missiles into Ukraine, and more than 5,000 units of Russian military equipment of various types have been destroyed. The total weight of all destroyed Russian equipment as of April 8 is around 85,000 tons. About 75,000 tons of this are carbon steel and stainless steel; 2,500 t - aluminium; 1,000 tons - copper; more than 360 tons of titanium and magnesium; as well as 10 kg of platinum, 18 kg of gold, and 1.2 tons of silver. Recycling of military scrap metal is a complex and time-consuming process requiring state control. 

At a briefing on 11 April 2022, Oleh Bondar, Head of the Pyrotechnic Work and Humanitarian Demining Department at the State Emergency Service of Ukraine, said that about 300,000 square kilometers of Ukraine's territory needed humanitarian demining due to a large amount of ammunition left by the occupiers. Due to large-scale mining by Russian troops, a vast areas of arable land in Ukraine cannot yet be used for agriculture.

Damage to natural reserves and protected ecosystems

Currently, dozens of Ukrainian nature reserves and national parks have suffered significant damage as a result of Russian aggression. The destruction of Ramsar sites at the coasts of the Azov and Black Seas and in the lower reaches of the Danube and Dnipro rivers cause deep concern. 

The war caused a lot of damage to forestries in Ukraine. A lot of buildings and vehicles have been damaged and destroyed, and the infrastructure and forests are mined. Part of the forests in Kharkiv, Luhansk, Donetsk, and Kherson oblasts are currently under the control of the occupiers.

Damage to freshwater resources

The Russian military has caused significant damage to water supply, sewerage, and communications systems directly threatening freshwater supplies, and polluting rivers that are sources of water for industry, utilities, and individual households. 

Due to Russian aggression, the wastewater treatment 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

Currently, the sea traffic from all Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea has been suspended. Dozens of commercial vessels are blocked in ports due to the threat of attacks by the Russian navy, and the capture or detonation of sea mines.

The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, citing Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, reports that 400 dangerous mines might be floating in the Black Sea. The Minister said that since the end of March Turkish underwater security groups have deactivated 3 mines, all of them made in Russia.

On the night of 8 April, Russians attacked the icebreaker Captain Bilousov in the port of Mariupol. At the time of the shelling, there was a civilian crew on board. One person was killed and several others were injured. On 11 April, the Russian occupiers hit the SMARTA cargo ship and captured the crew and the captain's wife in the port of Mariupol.

Legal issues

The Russian Federation breaches its obligations under international treaties, including the UN Charter. Russia's invasion of Ukraine undermines all foundations of the international legal order.

The Government of Ukraine will hold further international consultations and study all the possible options for bringing the aggressor country to justice, particularly through the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.

Previous reports of the Ministry of the Environmental Protection and Natural Resources of Ukraine on environmental crimes committed by Russian troops since the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine are available following the links:

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