Environmental consequences of the Russian-Ukraine Conflict

A significant risk of an environmental disaster compounding the humanitarian crisis


A long-simmering confrontation between Ukraine and Russia has devolved into a full-fledged invasion wreaking havoc on the environment. For more than a month, fears of war have been raised about a prospective Russian incursion into Ukraine.




Context: What is happening in Ukraine


The 1,50,000 troops stationed around the Ukrainian border might spark the most serious conflict this country has seen in history. It might result in thousands and thousands of innocent causalities, a humanitarian catastrophe, a global economic downturn, as well as irreversible harm to the regional and global environment.


As told by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Russia has accumulated a large arsenal of armaments within the target range of Ukraine, including tankers, howitzers, missile launchers, ballistic missile defense systems, and army combat vehicles.


According to Tyson Wetzel, a senior US Air Force fellow at the Atlantic Council's Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, Russian military forces in the area are more than enough to launch a large-scale invasion of Ukraine.





Environmental Impact


Humanity is seeing fuel waste, chemical releases, nuclear and carbon emissions, air pollution from aircraft crashes, building demolition, target point burning, gas release, and a slew of other things that pollute the environment and continue to destabilize the ecosystem's natural equilibrium.


Battles, clashes, and other forms of violence have always influenced the environment. However, Eastern Ukraine is now suffering severe environmental issues, particularly in the Donbas region, which is heavily industrialized and is already one of Ukraine's most polluted areas. The area previously had to cope with hazardous waste from the region's history of coal mining, metallurgy, and chemical manufacturing. Many of its active manufacturing and running facilities will be anticipated to close after the war, increasing the danger of pollution while they languish. Note that Donbas is the same area that faced significant damages since the annexation of Crimea.


It's worth noticing that Ukraine makes up 6% of Europe's landmass and 35% of its biodiversity. There are more than 70,000 specimens of unique flora and wildlife on the island. Large rivers such as the Dniester, Pivdenny Buh, and the Danube also run through Ukraine, and their production is vital to the country's agricultural production.


Forests occupy over 16% of the area, and wood sales are one of the key economic activities. Fuel waste, chemical releases, nuclear and carbon emissions, air pollution from aircraft accidents, building destruction, target point burning, gas release and ballistic missiles would all harm 33 wetlands in Ukraine with international significance.


Artillery explosions will also raise the risk of wildfires, which have already burned 20,000 hectares in Ukraine's Luhansk area in 2020. More than 40% of Ukraine's wheat and corn exports go to the Middle East and Africa, countries that are already suffering from food shortages and might be exacerbated by any interruptions.


The United Nations has cautioned that combat that goes outside separatist-controlled areas might exacerbate food poverty. Food hyperinflation will be fueled further if the supply of wheat out of the Black Sea area is disrupted, at a moment when food pricing is a problem throughout the world following the economic devastation caused by the Covid-19 outbreak.


According to Richard Pearshouse, the head of Crisis and the Environment at Amnesty International:

"Any clashes or fights in this area can lead to significant pollution in the environment, which will affect the available balance of the system and almost certainly have serious health consequences. It is unmistakably the start of a catastrophic humanitarian disaster that will devastate the lives of residents as well as the industrial complex."


Nuclear waste at stake


According to reports, the severe battle around the Chernobyl nuclear power facility is still going on. There's a strong probability that this artillery may end up in Ukraine, where atomic power facilities operate.


According to Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer, the potential invasion route is close to the Chernobyl exclusion zone. "The delivery of air-to-surface munitions, artillery, and rocket launcher fire in the Belarus-Ukraine border area can result in the spread of a lot of radioactive debris in the soil, which will have impacts for thousands of years to come," he said.


It will undoubtedly result in a lot of air pollution and radioactive contamination, which will have long-term effects on the ecosystem. Moreover, the Russian military has been assisting two separatist areas in Ukraine's eastern region, focusing on the country's chemical facilities, industrial infrastructure, and electricity grids.


Note that Eastern Ukraine includes several industrial sites, including metallurgical facilities, chemical industries, and power stations.




Migration crisis


According to the US government, an invasion may cause one to five million Ukrainians to abandon the nation, while Ukraine's defense minister estimated the number at three to five million. UNICEF predicted that up to 5 million Ukrainians might escape the region on Friday.


Europe is intently monitoring the consequences of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which have far-reaching military and economic ramifications. A full-fledged assault, the globe fears, would result in a catastrophic migration crisis, with profound economic, environmental, financial, and sociological consequences. Poland, Romania, Czechia, and Slovakia, who are all neighbors, have already begun preparing for the influx of up to a million migrants.


The United Nations Environment Programme has recently proposed a ceasefire to safeguard the safety of people and the environment and secure the long-term survival of all species on the planet.




Way to Zero Waste and other global institution for human rights, spieces preservation, emission mitigation, and pollution reduction platforms are helping to raise awareness and spark debates so that lives, jobs, and the planet can be safeguarded.



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