Briefing on the environmental damage caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine (15-18 April 2022)

20 April 2022, 19:40

Ukraine has now reached its 54th day of a full-scale Russian invasion. The occupiers' military forces continue to commit barbaric crimes, killing peaceful Ukrainians and deliberately damaging Ukraine's economy, civilian infrastructure, and the environment.

The Government of Ukraine records the occupiers' crimes against the environment and will use every opportunity to bring the aggressor country to justice. This work is being done based on the best international practices and involves leading experts from Ukraine and abroad.

International partners will also help to restore Ukraine. Last week, Ukraine and the EU started the negotiations for the accession of Ukraine to the LIFE Program. By joining the Program, Ukraine will be able to benefit from financing innovative environmental protection projects and sustainable postwar restoration.

Nuclear and radiation safety threats

From 24 February to 31 March 2022, the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone was occupied by Russian troops. Currently, the State Agency of Ukraine for Exclusion Zone Management (DAZV) controls all Chornobyl facilities. Demining and inventory work on the equipment damages caused by the occupiers is underway.

It is expected that due to Russian troops’ non-compliance with the requirements of the radiation safety and sanitation regime, the level of radioactive contamination in the Exclusion Zone has increased. As a result of the Russian actions, an automated radiation monitoring system was destroyed, so more accurate data on radiation levels’ changes will be available after the system resumes its operation.

On 16 April, the power supply of the Centralized Used Fuel Storage Facility in the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone was restored. At present, the adjustment of equipment and devices has begun to resume the normal operation of the facility.

The Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, captured on March 4, is still controlled by the Russian military. Despite the occupation, the nuclear power staff is ensuring the safe production of electricity for Ukraine under conditions no nuclear power plant in the world has ever had to operate.

The plant’s employees work under psychological pressure, fearing for their own and their loved ones’ lives. The station's management is forced to align operational issues with commanders of the Russian occupation forces. Also, a team of Rosatom representatives led by the chief engineer of Rostov NPP is present at the station.

The radiation level at the Zaporizhzhya NPP industrial site is 11 micro roentgen/hour, in the sanitary protection zone - 8-12 micro roentgen/hour. These indicators correspond to the natural radiation background at the location of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant.

Recent attacks on infrastructure and industrial sites

On 15 April, Russian troops launched a missile strike on the territory of the Vizar plant in the town of Vyshneve, Bucha district, Kyiv region, resulting in a fire.

On the evening of 15 April, Russian troops launched a missile strike on the infrastructure of the airfield in the city of Oleksandria (Kirovograd region). The fire at the airfield was extinguished.

On 16 April, Russian troops fired on the Lysychansk refinery. A fire broke out as a result of the shelling. The oil sludge remnants were burning on an area of ​​5,000 square meters. This is the third shelling of the facility since the start of the Russian full-scale invasion. The refinery stopped its operation in 2012, is not being used for storing fuel, and therefore is of no strategic importance. Systematic shelling of the Lysychansk refinery is an act of deliberate damage to Ukraine’s environment.

On 17 April, as a result of the shelling of one of the enterprises of the Industrial District of Kharkiv, wooden pallets and plastic containers caught fire on an area of ​​about 6,000 square meters.

On 18 April, Russian troops fired missiles at unused warehouses and a service station in Lviv. The fire might have polluted the air and land resources with hazardous substances.

Pollution caused directly by hostilities

According to Ukraine’s State Emergency Service, from 24 February to 18 April 2022, 66,753 explosive devices, 1,937 aircraft bombs, and 417.4 kg of explosives were neutralized in Ukraine. An area of ​​11,062 hectares was surveyed for explosives. Destroyed military equipment and ammunition, as well as exploded missiles and air bombs, pollute the soil and groundwater with chemicals and heavy metals.

The UN Institute for Training and Research records the level of destruction of Ukrainian cities during the war based on satellite images. According to UNOSAT data, the village of Gorenka (Bucha district) is the most damaged in the Kyiv region: 77% of the settlement has been destroyed. In Irpin 71% of buildings are damaged, while in Gostomel - 58%. In Bucha, 26% of buildings are damaged. Destruction of cities and settlements leads to pollution by construction debris and asbestos. The consequences of such pollution to the environment will last for years.

Damage to natural reserves and protected ecosystems

As a result of the invasion, Ukraine’s natural heritage is being progressively damaged. More than one-third of the total territory of protected areas has been used by Russian troops in military operations against the Ukrainian people. Dozens of nature and biosphere reserves and national nature parks have suffered extensive damage due to Russian aggression. The aggressor was conducting military operations on the territory of 900 units of the nature reserve fund with an area of 1.24 million hectares. About 200 territories of the Emerald Network with an area of 2.9 million hectares are under threat of destruction. A particular concern is about the destruction of Ramsar sites at the coasts of the Azov and Black Seas and in the lower reaches of the Dnipro River.

Usually the "season of silence" begins in Ukraine in April, because this is the breeding season for many wild animals and birds. Extraneous noise can frighten newborn animals or birds and their parents, and even force adults to leave a nest or burrow. Active hostilities during the “season of silence” pose a threat to wildlife.

Animals that are completely dependent on humans and live in Ukrainian zoos have the hardest time.

The Kharkiv Zoo suffered from the air raids. There is no information about casualties among animals. The zoo workers have remained in their workplaces risking their lives. They are doing everything possible to save the lives of animals.

Animals were evacuated from the Feldman Ecopark in Kharkiv to the Kovalivka Ecopark in Poltava Region and the Kharkiv Zoo.

Kyiv Zoo continues working but is closed to visitors. Several animals were evacuated to Poland, Belgium, and Spain.

The XII Months Zoo in the village of Demydiv in the Kyiv region, which has been occupied by Russian troops for more than five weeks, suffered significant losses. Animals died and were injured as a result of the occupiers' actions at the zoo. Currently, employees are resuming their work and are replenishing food supplies for animals.

The Mykolaiv Zoo was hit with 2 shells that didn't explode so, fortunately, nobody suffered. The institution has received humanitarian aid from European zoos.

To date, there is no information about the Mariupol zoo. Most likely, the animals lack water, food, and heat and urgently need a green corridor to evacuate.

Damage to freshwater resources

As a result of hostilities, the pipeline system supplying fresh water from the Dnipro River to Mykolaiv was damaged. As of the morning of 18 April, the repair works are  underway to restore the water supply. Residents of Mykolaiv are taking water for technical needs from the Southern Bug river, and are queuing to get potable water.

Due to the destroyed dam of the Oskil Reservoir, the water level in the Siverskiy Donets River has risen. In Sviatohirsk (Donetsk region) the river overflowed its banks and flooded parts of the city.

In Vasylivka (Zaporizhia region) the sewage treatment plant was damaged as a result of shelling by the occupiers. It is currently impossible to estimate the full amount of damage, as the access to the facility has been mined by Russian troops. Due to Russian aggression, the wastewater treatment process is not provided for Severodonetsk, Lysychansk, Rubizne, Popasna, and part of Zaporizhzhya. Discharge of untreated sewage impairs the microbiological safety of water and leads to the death of fish and aquatic organisms, which will increase the risk of infectious diseases outbreaks when the air temperature rises.

The destruction of the Irpin Dam by the Russian military could become an environmental catastrophe for the Kyiv region. Among the potential negative consequences of the dam destruction are the contamination of water with oil, fuel, and infections from flooded landfills and cesspools.

Black and Azov Seas

Maritime traffic from all Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea remains blocked due to the threat of attacks by the Russian navy, and the capture or detonation of sea mines. The blockade of Ukraine's ports complicates agricultural exports and poses a serious threat to global food security.

On the evening of 14 April 2022, the Russian missile cruiser Moskva with a tonnage of more than 11,000 tons was officially confirmed to have sunk in the Black Sea. As a result, the Black Sea was probably contaminated with remains of fuel from the ship, as well as with ammunition (missiles and torpedoes) containing harmful chemicals.

Previous Reports

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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