The Dam Attack Adds To Ukraine's Huge Environmental Toll, Already Estimated At $54 Billion
The blowing up of the Nova Kakhovka dam has unleashed massive flooding in southern Ukraine. The damage is sure to be staggering, which will add to the huge toll the government estimated in March that takes into account land, air, and water pollution, burned-down forests, and destroyed natural resources.
-This article was updated on June 6, 2023 at 2 p.m. local time-
The blowing up of a large Soviet-era dam on the Dnipro river, which has sparked massive flooding, may turn out to be the most environmentally damaging of the Ukraine war.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has blamed Russia for the attack on the Nova Kakhovka dam, calling it "ecocide," with the flooding already estimated to affect over 16,000 people in surrounding villages, many of whom have been told to evacuate immediately. So far, eight villages have been flooded completely by water from the dam's reservoirs.
Moscow, meanwhile, says Kyiv is behind the blast in occupied areas of Ukraine. But even before knowing who is to blame, environmental experts note that is just the latest ecological casualty in the 15-month-long conflict.
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In March, for the first time, there was an estimate of the cost of the environmental damage of the war on Ukraine: $54 billion.
Ruslan Strilets, Ukraine’s Minister of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources, explained that experts have applied a new methodology based on environmental inspection to tally the cost.
“This includes land, air, and water pollution, burned-down forests, and destroyed natural resources,” he said. “Our main goal is to show these figures to everyone so that they can be seen in Europe and the world so that everyone understands the price of this environmental damage and how to restore it to Ukraine.”
The greatest damage so far has been to forests: nearly 3 million hectares (11,583 square miles) have been damaged due to Russian aggression. This is almost one-third of Ukraine's forested area. Almost 500,000 hectares are now under temporary occupation or in the combat zone.
National parks, occupied
Strelets also noted that 10 national parks, eight nature reserves, and two biosphere reserves are currently under Russian occupation. He said 600 species of fauna and 750 species of flora are "under threat of extinction."
Although Ukraine makes up only 6% of Europe's total territory, it accounts for 35% of the continent's biodiversity, and is home to over 74,000 plant and animal species. This means that the effects on the country's forests and parks will impact all of Europe for years to come.
The Ukrainian Criminal Code is currently prepared to hold accountable and imprison those responsible for pollution and biodiversity loss, including for “mass destruction of flora and fauna" and "poisoning of air or water resources.”
More 170,000 residential buildings have been destroyed across Ukraine in one year of the war.
Also, the vast territories of Ukraine are polluted with mines. Considering the scale of mine pollution, de-mining efforts may last up to 70 years.
The damage has been tallied for the first year of the war.
Property and infrastructure
Of course most important statistics are the deaths and injuries the war has inflicted. But beyond that the Ukrainian government has also been tallying the property destruction.
More 170,000 residential buildings have been destroyed across Ukraine in one year of the war. This is the data as of January 2023 provided by the Ministry of Communities, Territories, and Infrastructure Development of Ukraine. However, these statistics continue to grow daily as the war continues after the Russian army shells Ukrainian cities, villages, and towns.
The most striking example of the destructive actions of the occupiers is Mariupol, which was destroyed by bombing last spring. Half of the city's residential buildings and 95% of its infrastructure were destroyed. Now the Russians are demolishing the damaged buildings to hide the traces of their crimes.
In the Luhansk region, Sievierodonetsk, Popasna, Rubizhne, Shchastia, and Kreminna were also largely destroyed during the fighting. According to the authorities, Lysychanska was a little more "lucky": infrastructure and residential buildings there have been destroyed by 60%.
The number of destroyed smaller towns and villages is not yet known
Also, in the Donetsk region, Volnovakha, Vuhledar, Maryinka, and Lyman are practically in ruins, and Soledar was destroyed.
The hottest spot right now on the frontline is Bakhmut in the Donetsk region. Due to regular shelling, the city has been essentially destroyed, and there has been no gas, water, or electricity for a long time.
The cities of Kupiansk and Izyum, which have already been de-occupied in the Kharkiv region, were also severely damaged. Since leaving Kherson in November, Russian troops have been shelling the city daily, and 30-40% of the buildings there have been damaged.
Beyond these large and medium-sized cities, the number of destroyed smaller towns and villages is not yet known; they could be dozens or even hundreds.
Church ruins in Donetsk
Russia has destroyed more than 500 objects of Ukraine’s cultural infrastructure (museums, theaters, historical buildings, etc.), reports the Ministry of Culture and Information.
"A total of 1,322 objects of cultural infrastructure have already been damaged due to Russian aggression in Ukraine. Almost a third of them – 505 objects – have been destroyed. Cultural infrastructure suffered the greatest losses and damages in the regions of Donetsk, Kharkiv, Kyiv, Kherson, Mykolaiv, and Luhansk.”
A final point is worth remembering: the data given on Ukrainian civilian casualties and physical destruction during the year of war is feared to be significantly higher, since the toll in territories under the control of the Russian army is still unknown.
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