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RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR: IMPACT OF THE WAR ON THE ENVIRONMENT

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RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR: IMPACT OF THE WAR ON THE ENVIRONMENT

The Russia-Ukraine war could be traced back to 2014 where there has been exchange of hostilities along the Eastern-Ukrainian boarder. The conflict resulted in the annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbas. Hostilities since then has remained controlled up until 24 February 2022 when there was full-fledged Russian invasion of Ukraine by air land and sea.

The war has brought about several casualties and attracted widespread global condemnation. Apart from the humanitarian crises, the war has affected the immediate environment significantly and if unchecked could trigger a global environmental emergency.

Another Chernobyl disaster waiting to happen

In the words of Yevhen Yakovlev, a geologist and chief researcher at Kiev’s Institute of Telecommunications and Global Information Space,

 

“Ukraine is standing before, first of all, an ecological catastrophe—-, deeper and more dangerous than Chernobyl.”

The Chernobyl disaster was the 1986 nuclear accident that occurred in Northern Ukraine when they were still a part of the Soviet Union. The accident is recorded as the worst nuclear accidents in history with devastating consequences on the people, the economy and the environment.

The region has moved on significantly since the accident but there are however reports of radiation effects, such as stunted tree growth and animals with high levels of radioactive substances like cesium-137 in their bodies.

Yevhen might have been a toddler when the accident occurred but would have grown up to experience the devastating effects of the incident. Also, being a researcher, his concerns about the environmental consequences of the Russian-Ukraine conflict is highly credible and worth investigating.

On 3 March 2022 the Nuclear power plant located at Zaporizhzhia in Southeastern Ukraine was subject to series of attack by Russian forces. Several structures within the nuclear site were affected by the crossfire including the administrative building.

Although initial reports claimed the reactor complex was not affected, video evidence showed repeated heavy fire in the direction of the reactor buildings. and there are chances that the radioactive integrity of the complex might have been compromised. Zaporizhzhia reactors are more fortified with modern technology than those of Chenobyl but advances in weapon manufacture could reduce it to the similitude of Chenobyl with just one strike.

If per chance the attack affected the reactors or fuel storage facilities, and with the war still flaming, Ukraine might as well prepare for a repeat of the Chenobyl disaster.

 

Mine warfare

During hostilities, issues bordering on environmental protection is often relegated to the background as warring parties focus on achieving their objectives irrespective of costs to nature. The Russia-Ukraine war is by no means an exception to this. Landmine exploitation is reported to be very rampant across opposition stronghold in the crises and there are reports of dangerous flooding occurring on ‘a series of inter-connected mines that stretch across the contact line between Ukrainian and Russian-backed forces’.

When these mines are triggered, the consequences are dire and could result in the poisoning of water bodies, spread of radioactive materials and damage to riverine communities and ecological habitats.

Risk of increased water, land and air pollution

Industrial sites, factories, laboratories and research areas are usually targeted during aerial bombardment by opposition forces. Already, Eastern Ukraine has faced serious artillery bombardment and it is reported that up to 30 heritage sites have been destroyed or seriously ruined by shelling of the area. This is not only a humanitarian issue and destruction of the country’s heritage but also further damage to a once beautiful environment that could take decades to rebuild.

Suspended particulate matter and dust builds up in the atmosphere and could spread by wind action to other regions. Leading to diverse forms of respiratory diseases. Dense smoke from building bombardment and other anthropogenic pollutants pose risk of acid rain further compounding the humanitarian and ecological situation.

Laboratories with contagious samples and factories containing dangerous chemicals could trigger outbreak of diseases or epidemics when exposed to shelling by opposition forces.

 

Summary

The Russia-Ukraine war is barely a month old and there are already devastating results on the local populace and the environment. Efforts at brokering peace between warring parties though ongoing has not yielded the desired results of a ceasefire. If allowed to continue till a surrender is forced, could cause an environmental crisis which experts say could take years to fully realize the impact.

References:

Bulletin of the atomic Scientists

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