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The Horsemen of Ecocide. What are Russia’s greatest environmental crimes in Ukraine?

On the night of June 6, Russian invaders blew up the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant, inflicting irreparable damage to the environment. The Page recalls previous instances of ecocide committed by Russia in Ukraine.

The aftermath of the devastating war waged by Russia will take decades and billions of dollars to mitigate. Experts from Ukraine’s Ministry of Environment and State Environmental Inspectorate estimated the damage inflicted on the environment after one year since the full-scale invasion to total nearly UAH 1.9 trillion ($51.5 billion). However, this amount doesn’t include the enormous damage caused by the demolition of the Kakhovka HPP by Russian forces fearing a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

The occupation of the Chornobyl NPP

As early as February 24, 2022, Russian invaders broke into the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant exclusion zone. Almost immediately, Ukraine lost control of the automated radiation situation monitoring system. Meanwhile, at the beginning of March, the invaders cut off power supply to the Chornobyl NPP and all the nuclear facilities in the exclusion zone, including spent fuel storage installations and the new safe confinement.

Olha Kosharna, an independent nuclear energy expert, noted that the actions of the Russian invaders were in breach of art. 2 of the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism and art. 7 of the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material.

In a month, the Russians retreated from the Chornobyl NPP exclusion zone, taking with them more than $135 million in equipment. Some of the invaders also exposed themselves to high radiation doses when they dug trenches in the notorious Red Forest.

Ukraine has regained control over the Chornobyl NPP and ensured its safe operation. Photo: Chornobyl NPP

Ukraine has regained control over the Chornobyl NPP and ensured its safe operation. Photo: Chornobyl NPP

The destruction of the Chornobaivka poultry farm and millions of livestock

Chornobaivka, a village outside Kherson, has turned into a popular meme since the full-scale invasion, as the Russian forces repeatedly lost scores of equipment there.

Meanwhile, Chornobaivka was also a grievous site of a large-scale ecocide. At the beginning of March 2022, the invaders cut off the power supply to the Chornobaivka poultry farm. As a result, around 4.4 million chickens died of thirst and hunger, which, given the lack of opportunity to dispose of dead birds, turned into a real environmental disaster for the region.

As a long-term consequence of those woeful events, the price of chicken eggs surged in the fall of 2022 due to the significant loss of the bird population and the aggravation of the product shortage.

Of course, the scale of the disaster is measured not only by the losses at the Chornobaivka poultry farm. President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy emphasized in a video address to the participants of the G20 summit in October 2022 that six million domestic animals died in Ukraine due to Russian aggression, and their corpses are a threat to the environment.

Finally, the corpses of the Russian invaders themselves become an environmental problem. As of June 6, 211,150 of them had died in Ukraine, and the enemy does not always take care of the proper burial of each killed soldier.

Nuclear blackmail at the Zaporizhzhia NPP

Even after they withdrew from the Chornobyl NPP, the invaders kept blackmailing Ukraine and the world with nuclear threats at the Zaporizhzhia NPP, in occupied Enerhodar. Ukraine’s biggest nuclear power plant has been controlled by Russia since March 3, 2022. The invaders repeatedly and maliciously cut off the power supply to the Zaporizhzhia NPP, causing a high risk of large-scale accidents with irreversible consequences.

Moreover, the demolition of the Kakhovka dam and the resulting drop in the water level in the Kakhovka reservoir also potentially threaten the NPP, since the water from the reservoir is necessary for cooling the plant’s systems.

The Zaporizhzhia NPP suffered repeated shelling during the occupation. Photo: Wikipedia

The Zaporizhzhia NPP suffered repeated shelling during the occupation. Photo: Wikipedia

The contamination of fertile soil with mines and harmful substances

A tractor blown up by a landmine while working in the field became a gruesome symbol of the 2022 and 2023 sowing campaigns. Russia’s war in Ukraine resulted in the contamination of approximately 174,000 square kilometers of the country’s land with explosives. The demining may require $18.3 to $38 billion, according to different estimations, and the process will last for years or even decades.

Besides mechanical contamination with landmines, aerial bombs, etc., experts emphasize significant chemical contamination of farmlands with heavy metals, sulfur, and nitrogen. Even after the lands are cleared of mines, their fertility won’t be restored.

The liberated territories will take years to clear from the consequences of the war. Photo: Maria Babenko

The liberated territories will take years to clear from the consequences of the war. Photo: Maria Babenko

Damage to Ukraine’s wildlife and nature reserves

In the spring of 2023, Ukrainians were outraged by pictures shared on social media showing Russian invaders posing with animals they killed in the Askania Nova nature reserve in the occupied part of the Kherson region. The invaders have already entered the Ukrainian reserve into the Russian state company register and appointed a Russian national as the director. Under the occupational administration, the lives of all the animals in the reserve are under threat.

Askania Nova is only one painful issue, since the destruction of forests as well as contamination with mines, fuels, and lubricants pose a lasting danger to biodiversity.

Marine life is also endangered. In the above-mentioned video address to the participants of the G20 summit, Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that at least 50,000 dolphins had been killed in the Black Sea during the war.

Demolition of the Kakhovka HPP

On the night of June 6, the aggressor resorted to the demolition of the Kakhovka HPP and the dam of the Kakhovka reservoir — a crime both strikingly vicious with respect to the scale of possible consequences and nonsensical from a military point of view. The damage done to Ukraine is still hard to estimate as the situation changes every minute. What is already clear is that the enemy should be brought to justice for the ecocide it committed.

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