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Russia-Ukraine War and Its Impact on the Environment - Gülce Özdilekcan

The situation of Russia-Ukraine War has many social outcomes, as we have all followed from various news channels. We have watched countless homes being destroyed, people forced to fly away from their homes, many ghost towns which used to be cities, and many more. It wasn’t surprising to observe many casualties, other than the troops of Ukraine and Russia. The victim of the war is, doubtless say, the young, children, old, and all the people who were in the war zone. However, the environment and the other species living in the war zone is the other victim who is not obvious at first sight, yet vital.

“The environment has long been a silent casualty of war and armed conflict. From the contamination of land and the destruction of forests to the plunder of natural resources and the collapse of management systems, the environmental consequences of war are often widespread and devastating,” said Ban Ki-Moon, the former Secretary-General of United Nations (UN), on the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict. The environment has also been one of the casualties that we don’t usually rush to protecet at first sight. However, I think that the environmental effect has a huge long-term effect on the human factor, which we seek to protect at first sight. The environment doesn't have a nationality; however, we mention this war as a war between two states. Other species also doesn't have a chance to fly away from the war zone. Therefore, we have to think about the environment after the war is over.

What Are Experts Saying About the Environmental Effect of War?

Before the war happened, Ukraine had transformed from an agricultural to an industrialized country throughout the years. Therefore, war poses larger threats to the environment. If Ukraine were still an agricultural country, outcomes would be less significant. However, in industrialized areas, “Russian forces have used explosive weapons with wide-area effects in large, populated areas. Russian airstrikes have cut off many urban residents' heat, water, and energy.”

This makes the war more concerning for the environment because the weapons that the Russians used caused spread into the soil, water, and the air. For example, in the war zone, a power plant was targeted by the Russians, which caused huge pollution, which is unreversible in the short term and probably causes different threats in the long term. Experts often evaluate the long-term effect of the war as it will be like the Chornobyl situation in the 1980s, and its effects will last for decades. Even though it has effects such as refugee problems, the lack of clean water because of the high amounts of arsenic and lead released into the soil and the water for the ones remaining in Ukraine will cause disease outbreaks.

Also, Ukraine has a very special geographic region, which holds over more than 70,000 endemic species, including animals and plants. Some regions have rich water resources, enabling these species to last for centuries. However, doubtless to say that the richness of these species will decrease with the highly polluted main water resources caused by the weapons used by Russia. This will also cause the food resources to decrease in Ukraine, where there is still agricultural production, especially timber.

Solution Proposals

On 24/03/2022, the European Union (EU) accepted a resolution on the economic, social, and environmental effects of the war. As can be predicted, even though there are different points of view around the world about the conflict, the EU is on Ukraine's side. Therefore, the recommendations on the resolution regarding protecting Ukraine. They stress the importance of the help of other EU members to Ukraine since their environment has been affected a lot. They have mentioned their will as “EU must help protect and restore environmental damage caused by the war and sanction environmental crimes(…)." They are also concerned about the nuclear safety of Ukraine and seek help for protection, which can also cause greater problems for the environment. They are mainly seeking the unity of the EU to help Ukraine with further environmental problems.

Ukraine is, for sure, seeking help in this ongoing conflict for many reasons, and the environment is one of them. However, I think that even though asking for help is effective to some extent, it looks like a band-aid for now. What has happened cannot be taken back, but preventative measures for the damage that has been done can be obtained. Seeking help is one step, but the damage that has been done in Ukraine won't affect the country itself only. It will have long-term effects that will affect the other parts of the world, not even only environmentally but economically and socially. Therefore, by focusing on how to protect what is left with awareness from other countries as well, the future of Ukraine would be more bright.


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