One year after the invasion Ukraine is a country to rebuild. Not just in cities. THE environmental damage will be felt for a long time, says to Wired the Deputy Minister of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources Ruslan Hrechanyk, via video link from Kyiv. Hrechanyk had a background as a forest engineer before joining the government team. “The Russians commit war crimes every day in violation of international rules, including the Geneva protocol – explains the politician – The damage caused by the invasion according to our calculations are over $51 billion, an estimate that is constantly growing. We have registered more than 2,300 cases of environmental crimes. Over a third of all our forests have been involved in the hostilities, with damage estimated at $500 million”.
Damage to water resources
Not only. “We estimate the damage to our water resources to be $1.5 billion. The marine ecosystem is also affected by the conflict: fuel from sunken ships is poured into the water and more than a thousand cases of dolphin deaths in the Black Sea have been reported to us, not only near our coasts, but also in neighboring regions. Based on the data we have available, deaths increase in coincidence with the launch of missiles by Putin’s submarines”, continues the politician.
Last October, in Mykolaiv, a drone attack ha damaged the tanks of one of the country’s largest sunflower oil producers. The liquid ended up in the Bug River estuary before being sucked up. National parks are still staffed, Hrechanyk notes, even though they are not open to the public for safety reasons. “But over five thousand experts have been trained and drafted into the armed forces. And today there is a shortage of competent personnel in the country”, says the deputy minister.
The nuclear problem
We ask: Is Kyiv capable of managing nuclear power plants and their waste at the moment? For Hrechanyk”Russia violates all possible nuclear safety rules. The situation of the site around the largest plant in Europe, that of Zaporizhzhia, cannot be controlled. With a terrorist act, Moscow has destroyed the bulkheads of the Kakhovka hydroelectric plantcausing a dramatic drop in the reservoir which serves to cool it. At the moment, the water level is 13.8 metres, against the sixteen necessary: in recent days we have dropped to 13.6 metres. There is a risk of an accident similar to that of Fukushima, which, based on the direction of the winds, could also involve Europe. But there is also the National Science Center of Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology, equipped with a small reactor built for scientific purposes: the Russians bomb it regularly with targeted actions. At the moment it is impossible to fix it completely”.
The most mined country in the world
Hrechanyk says he is sure of the final victory. But the biggest unknown for the future, he says, is another: Ukraine is currently the most mined country in the world. How long will it take to clear it? “State emergency services specialists work tirelessly, but they can clear a maximum of fifteen hectares of land per day. It is a gigantic undertaking; a race against time to prepare for the return of the eight million refugeeswhile Moscow’s troops continue to place bombs“, He says. According to the ministry (which cites the report Agribusiness in Ukraine), 15% of agricultural land is contaminated by mines. Spills of oil and heavy metals, such as those contained in missiles and grenades, could lead to temporary inability to farm. As regards the rubble of the buildings hit by the bombings, data held by the ministry say that the volume is comparable to that of domestic waste produced by the whole country in the course of a year. The government is preparing procedures to manage them: they are taken by local authorities to temporary centers where the dangerous components are separated. It should be noted that waste management is already a complex issue in peacetime; with an ongoing conflict, the controls, formally still present, loosen a lot.