“To overcome the ecological consequences of war will be aided by the European Union program,” – Oleksandr Katsuba.

The article outlines the ecological devastation inflicted by Russia's invasion on Ukraine, stressing the urgent need for domestic and international efforts to address environmental challenges. Oleksandr Katsuba, an energy sector expert, underscores Ukraine's reliance on European support for recovery

Against the backdrop of thousands of killed people, destroyed cities, and millions of refugees—all the obvious consequences of the war that Russia brought to our land—we must not forget that the Ukrainian environment also suffered immense damage from the war. This directly affects the quality and duration of Ukrainians’ lives and the economic prospects of our country. We will also have to overcome the ecological consequences of the war after its conclusion, and the most acute problems need to be addressed right now.

You can immediately recall the mining of territories, the undermining of the Kahovka Dam, or the threat posed by Russians to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. But in reality, the ecological consequences of war are much broader. The damage associated with Russia’s destruction of Ukraine’s natural environment is estimated in billions of dollars, and the harm to the safety and health of people is difficult to measure in money.

Destroyed industrial giants, forests littered with mines and shells, flooded coal mines, undermined structures, dead animals, and destroyed plants—these are direct consequences of Russian aggression. The war in Ukraine is taking place in one of the most industrialized and polluted territories in the world. The environmental danger faced by Ukraine as a result of the armed conflict is also exacerbated by a significant share of industry in the structure of our economy.

The legacy of Soviet heavy industry was already an environmental disaster and a threat to citizens’ health, but the Russian invasion risks causing even more harm to nature. It is precisely the ecological consequences of war that are a vivid testament to the fact that war will echo in Ukrainian everyday life for many decades.

«Since the beginning of the war, Russian shelling has created the risk of leakage of nearly 6 billion tons of accumulated waste.»

Russian actions pose a threat of leakage of liquid waste generated at coal mines, chemical plants, and other heavy industrial sectors. Since the beginning of the war, Russian shelling has created the risk of leakage of nearly 6 billion tons of accumulated waste, primarily in the Donbas region. The same applies to solid waste from heavy industry, including a significant portion composed of heavy metals.

Water and soil pollution extend beyond the Donbas to the entire Ukraine. Artillery and missile strikes by Russian occupiers on oil and fuel depots, oil refineries, industrial plants, and power stations result in the release of toxic substances into the atmosphere. Polluted substances contaminate soil and water, exacerbating environmental damage. Ukrainian soil suffers from rockets, bombs, shells, and fires. Contaminated water poisons the soil, while sediment from polluted air covers Ukrainian fields in the East and South. Nearly a quarter of Ukraine’s territory is to some extent covered with mines.

«Combat actions in the waters of the Black and Azov Seas also inflict significant damage to the ecology of these seas.»

The destruction of the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant is the greatest “aquatic” crime of Russia and one of the greatest technological disasters of the last decade, not only in Ukraine but worldwide. Besides the loss of lives and the flooding of dozens of settlements, tens of kilometers of Ukrainian territory were destroyed, along with the biodiversity of these areas. This is an act of ecocide. But it’s not only freshwater bodies suffering. Combat actions in the waters of the Black and Azov Seas also inflict significant damage on the ecology of these seas, which have already been affected by ill-considered human activities.

War poses an immediate threat to biodiversity. The catastrophe resulting from the terrorist sabotage of the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant is not the only one threatening the flora and fauna of Ukraine. Tens of thousands of animals, including rare and endangered species, have perished during combat operations in the Kiev, Chernihiv, and Sumy regions. Even more will likely perish due to contact with mines and other munitions, as well as from water and soil contamination.

Russia continues to pose a persistent and steadily high level of radiation threat. At the beginning of the invasion, the occupiers seized the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, and the exclusion zone was under occupation for over a month. While there were no significant consequences at that time, the Russians also seized the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. It remains under the control of the occupiers. Energoatom has repeatedly stated that the Russians, knowingly or unknowingly, are violating the operating conditions of the plant, creating a threat to the ecological safety of Ukraine, Europe, and Russia itself.

«Fires at thermal power plants lead to massive emissions of pollutants into the atmosphere and water.»

Russia’s energy terror carries significant environmental risks beyond the atomic threat. The thermal power plant system is ecologically vulnerable because fires at these plants result in massive emissions of pollutants into the atmosphere and water. Additionally, tens of thousands of generators running on gasoline and other fossil fuels, which were forced to operate throughout last winter and will continue to do so this year, have also caused significant environmental damage, especially in large cities.

What I’ve listed is just the most systemic and noticeable points of the damage that Russians have inflicted on Ukrainian nature and the quality of life of Ukrainians. This list could go on and on. Russia managed to add ecocide as one of the key crimes of the aggressor to genocide, crimes against humanity, aggressive warfare, and war crimes for the first time in history.

To overcome all the consequences of Russian aggression for the ecology of Ukraine and Europe, a consistent policy is needed from both the Ukrainian state and European institutions. Because Ukraine cannot handle this task alone. Already, there is a positive signal in this regard—European green transformation policy, which is part of the EU’s Green Deal, involves expenditures at the level of 1 trillion euros. These funds will go towards changes in the economy and energy sector to reduce emissions and decrease environmental pollution by 2050. The European Commission, the EU’s highest executive body, wants to include Ukraine in this program. The main thing for us now is to repel the Russian aggressor. And then we can heal the wounds inflicted by this war.

Oleksandr Katsuba — Ukrainian entrepreneur, expert in the energy sector, owner of the company Alpha Gas.