Wars, in Ukraine and elsewhere, are always a disaster for the people, but also for the environment. Modern weapons are devastating from an ecological perspective. They lead only to desolation, wreaking havoc on people and nature for decades.
Attack on the environment
In war, there is an “attacker” and an “attackee”, who is forced to defend itself. Although the destruction of the environment may be considered collateral damage of this conflict, it is also a veritable strategy used by the attacker today.
Subjected to bombings and subsequent fires, ecosystems are damaged, even annihilated. These weapons of environmental destruction are used to bring populations to their knees, to show the attacker’s supremacy over a territory, and to leave the eternal mark of domination.
Beyond two armies fighting each other, deliberately destroying the entire environment of a city, a region or even a country can become a war objective in itself. And although destroying the enemy’s environment is not a new strategy, current technologies make it a formidably effective weapon.
The bombing of a city and its infrastructure, whether civilian or military, destroys buildings and everything in them, particularly the electricity and water networks. Reducing toxic materials to ashes generates dust and fumes that disperse throughout the environment and suffocate all living things in the vicinity.
This is why buildings are prime targets, leaving anything in and around them with no chance of survival. This strategy, known as “scorched earth”, isolates populations by depriving them of resources— a show of strength that adds a sense of terror to the material and human destruction.
Targeting of infrastructures and nuclear power
Unfortunately, an industrialized country, such as Ukraine, with its metallurgical and chemical plants, and its numerous urban infrastructures (Kiev, Kharkiv and Marioupol), offers high-value targets in the war led by Vladimir Putin.
In Ukraine, energy-related infrastructure, such as power plants (nuclear, hydroelectric) are the most likely to cause irreversible damage to the environment. This is why pipelines, power plants, factories, water or fuel reserves, and military sites are prime targets. The destruction of these sites is strategic.
Today, leaders fear that a nuclear power plant will be hit by a missile, leading to a nuclear disaster. With pipelines sabotaged and refineries attacked, the fear of major damage to sensitive sites that could emit radioactive waste is real. Fighting such as this in Ukraine, a country that has 15 nuclear reactors, is an unprecedented and concerning situation.
Ukraine: a major reservoir of biodiversity under threat
Ukraine is a country with an extremely rich biodiversity. With dozens of precious wetlands, approximately forty national parks and reserves, and the famous Black Sea Biosphere Reserve, Ukraine is a safe haven where many species, already endangered, have become even more so today.
The destruction and resulting fires, which incinerate the forests and all materials in their path, have released toxic smoke and led to significant micro-particle and heavy metal pollution. In these areas, the air can become unbreathable. The dust infiltrates everywhere, polluting the air, soil and water, and contaminating entire areas whose ecosystems may never recover.
On the coast, the ports, strategic zones of the highest order, are also being attacked and bombed. The entire marine environment is threatened: not only coastal land, but also the Black Sea itself, as far as Ukraine is concerned. Satellite images have shown that fires in the Black Sea Biosphere Reserve in southern Ukraine are endangering one of the largest protected natural areas in the country, as well as several endangered species. Marine animals, land animals and migratory birds are directly affected by the war. They may never again find an environment conducive to their survival. Not to mention the armoured vehicles, which, without any consideration for the environment, breach protected areas, ransacking them with their troops.
The Donbas region sacrificed
Since 2014, well before the current conflict broke out, the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine was already experiencing clashes between the Ukrainian army and pro-Russian separatists. This war in Donbas gives us an idea of what a larger-scale conflict can look like. The Donbas region, now devastated, is considered one of the most polluted areas in Europe. The demolition of mining areas has left the mines abandoned, dispersing toxic products that contaminate the water and soil. In addition, heavy metal and chemical pollution from the use of ammunition has invaded the rivers and lakes in this region.
The impact of the war on nature in Ukraine is clear. The country is experiencing an environmental disaster, the extent and severity of which cannot yet be anticipated, but which will be partly irreversible. Sadly, this is the case with all areas affected by armed conflicts in the world today.