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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

The Ukraine War's First Environmental Survey: Damage Is Huge

Ukrainian authorities have applied a new methodology based on environmental inspection to tally a $54 billion price-tag from the Russian invasion. It’s a moment to add up the many costs of the first year of war.

Photo of a burnt forest in Kharkiv

Local men dismantle the remains of destroyed Russian military equipment for scrap metal in a burned forest in Kharkiv

Anna Akage

Ukraine has already suffered irreversible losses in the year since the Russian invasion began. Above all, of course, has been the loss of human life. On top of that, Ukrainian and international officials have estimated massive damage to property and infrastructure, as well as the loss of cultural patrimony.

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But now, for the first time, there is 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."

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.

Dead and wounded

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has confirmed 8,101 civilian deaths and 13,479 injuries in Ukraine since Russia's full-scale invasion began. However, these figures do not consider the number of dead and wounded in the occupied territory.

In the year since the start of the full-scale war, the Ukrainian army has lost up to 13,000 soldiers, Mykhailo Podoliak, an adviser to the head of the Presidential Office, said in December.

Most acknowledge that death tolls of soldiers on both sides of the war are hard to verify, both because of access to the front line and because the warring parties tend to play down their own losses and inflate the losses of the enemy.

Property and infrastructure

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.

Photo of church destroyed by war in Donetsk

Church ruins in Donetsk

Mykhaylo Palinchak/SOPA/Zuma

Cultural heritage

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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Black and White image of Henry Belafonte

Belafonte was a prolific gospel, folk and jazz singer-songwriter, actor and committed civil rights activist who worked toward ending segregation alongside Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.

Emma Albright, Ginevra Falciani, Inès Mermat and Anne-Sophie Goninet

👋 Allegra!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where a war crime suspect has been freed in Sudan after a prison break-out, the Taliban report the killing of the Islamic State leader believed to be behind the 2021 Kabul airport bombing, and we mourn the death of “Calypso King” Harry Belafonte. Meanwhile, in Ukrainian news website Livy Bereg, Oleksandr Kalinichenko looks at Ukraine’s expectations ahead of the July NATO summit.

[*Romansh, Switzerland]

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