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As Putin's war on Ukraine sees no end in sight, the environment pays a heavy price

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As Putin's war on Ukraine sees no end in sight, the environment pays a heavy price

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Here’s all we know about how Russia’s war on Ukraine is fast turning into an ‘ecocide,’ crushing humans, animals and the land alike. The trail of perhaps irreversible damage to the environment may not be limited to Ukraine as pollutants released by the war are being carried downwind and downstream.

As Putin's war on Ukraine sees no end in sight, the environment pays a heavy price

Ukraine will seek compensation in the international courts for the environmental damage caused by the Russian invasion, the country’s environment minister said on May 19.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has damaged ecosystems, destroyed the natural habitats of wildlife and contaminated agricultural land of the country known as the ‘bread basket of Europe.’

Building a case against Russia, Ukraine’s Minister of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources Ruslan Strilets said this was the first military conflict in the world in the last 20 years to cause so much environmental damage, Reuters reported.

The minister also highlighted how the unprovoked invasion has destroyed the oil depots, thermal power plants, chemical plants, affecting the environment.

Russia’s ‘ecocide’

Apart from the numerous war crimes being committed in Ukraine today, the international community has also turned its focus on what is being termed as Russia’s “ecocide.”

Since the beginning of the Russian-Ukraine war on February 24, 231 crimes against the environment have been recorded by the State Ecological Inspectorate of Ukraine.

Peril near Chornobyl

According to Ukraine’s Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources, satellite images from NASA and the European Space Agency have revealed the fighting near the defunct Chornobyl (the Ukranian spelling, the Russian spelling being Chernobyl) nuclear power plant and the exclusion zone has resulted in fires in natural habitats. About 13,989 hectares of land in villages have been abandoned, a release by the ministry said. In comparison, only 30 fires across 38 hectares were registered in the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone in 2021. Forest fires from the area can be harmful as they may contain radiation-contaminated particles.

Similarly,the  safety of employees at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant continues to be under threat. The Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant is currently under the control of the Russian military.

War pollution

The Russians have shelled infrastructure facilities, railway depots, factories, oil refineries in various regions of Dnipro, Kirovohrad region, Odessa and Lysychansk, which have caused massive fires. Such large-scale fires have led to the poisoning of the air, water and soil with hazardous substances in Ukraine, the ministry said.

Apart from this, pollution was caused directly when missiles exploded and aircraft carpet-bombed Ukranian towns and cities. This contaminated the soil and groundwater with chemicals, including heavy metals.

Health experts believe it could take years to clean up the pollutants released by the war, increasing the risk of cancer, respiratory ailments and developmental delays in children, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Some experts have warned that the health impact could go beyond Ukraine’s borders as the pollutants are being carried downwind and downstream, the report said.

Dutch non-profit PAX, UK-based charity The Conflict and Environment Observatory, Ecoaction, a Ukraine-based environmental group, and other non-governmental organisations have documented the damage at more than 100 sites, including power plants and water-treatment plants, the report said.

Animal lover Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin , perhaps in a different avatar, has been a champion of animal rights, signing a Bill in 2018 that outlawed all forms of cruelty to animals. Yet, pets and zoo animals continue to perish as a result of his war.

Impact on pets, zoo animals

A Twitter post by the Foreign Affairs Ministry of Ukraine on March 10 claimed that the Russian army was shelling zoos and animal shelters in the country.

“Countless animals have lost their owners,” the post read.

Here’s all we know about how Russia’s war on Ukraine is fast turning into an ‘ecocide,’ crushing humans, animals and the land alike. The trail of perhaps irreversible damage to the environment may not be limited to Ukraine as pollutants released by the war are being carried downwind and downstream.

Perhaps, one of the most drastic impacts of the war has been on the animals in Ukraine. Some zoo animals have been re-homed in Poland, while others have been abandoned as zookeepers died or left to escape the war.

Ukraine has three large zoos — Kyiv Zoological Park, Kharkiv Zoo and Nikolaev Zoo. The three are in cities which are under attack by Russia. Apart from losing their home, zoo animals could also be affected by the noise of the bombings. A study published in 2019 revealed that elephants, giraffes and emus reacted with stress and agitation during construction work at the zoo. Research on the effect of explosions on zoo animals had not been studied before, The Conversation reported.

Noise pollution caused by the war may be a cause for the recent rise in dolphin deaths in the Black Sea, believe scientists.

Based on news and reports, it is believed that over 80 dolphins have died since late February. This could be a result of the increased military activities in the northern part of the Black Sea, which has 20 Russian navy vessels positioned. The noise is forcing the dolphins to move south towards the Turkish and Bulgarian shores, where they are getting caught in the fishing nets and dying, The Guardian reported.

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