11:00 13.03.2023


Russian Crimes on Ukrainian Land: How War Affects Our Environment

5 min read
Russian Crimes on Ukrainian Land: How War Affects Our Environment

Victoria Litvinova, Deputy Prosecutor General of Ukraine


Among the numerous crimes committed by Russians, there are those that often go unnoticed, although their consequences will be felt by generations of people, even beyond Ukraine. We are talking about crimes against the environment: mass killing of fauna, hundreds of thousands of hectares of burnt forests, thousands of tons of fuel from bombed oil depots, poisoned land and water. Add to this systemic attacks on strategic objects with potentially catastrophic consequences for people and the entire ecosystem.

Ukrainian land is literally suffering from the occupiers.

Nuclear Objects in the Combat Zone

As of March 9, 2022, 104 criminal proceedings related to damage to the environment are being investigated. Among them are 11 cases of ecocide, i.e. actions that have or may have massive destructive consequences for the environment. First and foremost, these are attacks on nuclear facilities.

On February 24, 2022, Russian military forces invaded the territory of the Chornobyl nuclear power plant. They detained the employees of the Chornobyl NPP and captured 179 servicemen of the National Guard (169 Russian guards were taken to Russia upon retreat).

We have identified three servicemen of the Russian Federal Service of the National Guard who, according to the investigation, organized the seizure of the plant.

Another egregious case is the mass attacks on the National Scientific Center "Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology", which was shelled with mortars, artillery systems, "Grad", "Uragan", "Tornado", and self-propelled "Peon" guns.

The fact that there is a nuclear facility "Neutron Source" and nuclear fuel storage on the Center's territory did not stop the Russians. Nor did the prospect of creating a zone of radioactive contamination with a 10-15 km radius in one of the most populous cities in Ukraine.

Water Resources and Hydrotechnical Facilities

On February 24, 2022, Russian forces destroyed the North Crimean Canal with artillery fire. Since then, water has been illegally taken from the canal. According to expert estimates, Ukraine's losses amount to more than 1.5 billion UAH. We have identified two Russian military personnel and informed them of suspicion.

The situation with the mass destruction of the population of dolphins in the Black Sea is appalling. Along the entire coast, from the occupied Crimea to the Odesa region, 117 cases of stranding of the Azovka and Afalina dolphins have been recorded. Experts believe that the cause may be acoustic trauma from the work of sonars of the Russian fleet. Ukrainian experts are examining the bodies of dead mammals, and samples have been sent to the universities of Padua and Hannover for independent examination.

Soil and Air Pollution

Massive artillery and missile attacks on oil depots and refineries damage the environment: soil, air, water, flora, and fauna. We have over 20 relevant investigations.

For example, the destruction of two oil depots in the Kyiv region, in the Fastiv district, resulted in the pollution of over 30,000 sq m. of land, and the content of petroleum products in the water exceeded the permissible norm by more than 40 times.

Over 73,000 tons of petroleum products have entered Ukrainian soil due to attacks on bases and enterprises, and over 89,000 square meters of land have been contaminated. Add to this emissions into the atmosphere due to fires and pollution of groundwater.

All facts are being investigated, and suspicion has already been reported to the general and colonel of the Russian armed forces for missile strikes on oil depots in Lutsk and Klevan, where the amount of damage exceeds UAH147 million.

But it's not just oil depots that are under attack. Shelling of the "Severodonetsk Association Azot" has led to emissions of polluting chemicals, with initial estimates of environmental damage totaling UAH253 million. Fires at warehouses in Bucha last March, and at the 7-hectare landfill in Novi Petrivtsi - all of these emissions into the air, water, and soil caused huge damage.

The number of forest fires in the year has covered 330,000 hectares. For comparison, in the most critical year due to drought in 2020, 160,000 hectares were burning. Before the war, the annual number of forest fires did not exceed 10,000 hectares.

Crimes Against the Environment Must Not Go Unpunished

The Russian military has repeatedly demonstrated that it has no regard for human or animal life. Only in the Kharkiv "Feldman Ecopark", three employees and 343 animals, including camels, deer, pumas, primates, and parrots, were killed as a result of shelling. Unfortunately, we do not know what is happening in the occupied territories. Such natural treasures as Askania-Nova, Oleshkivski Sands, Dzharylgach, and others are still under occupation.

Nature is called the silent victim of war, and crimes committed against it will have long-lasting consequences. Not only in Ukraine - the environment has no borders. The State Ecological Inspection of Ukraine estimates environmental damage at $52 billion.

The number and scale of crimes committed as a result of Russian aggression against Ukraine are unprecedented. And none of them should escape justice.

That is why it is important for the Prosecutor General's Office to record and prosecute all cases. And we have the support of our international partners. In particular, experts from EU countries have already been involved in the investigation of soil and water pollution.

Our position is clear: all crimes against the environment must be documented, investigated, evaluated, and considered in courts. Both Ukrainian and international. The aggressor state must compensate for all the damage inflicted on people, the state, and the entire ecosystem.