Russo-Ukrainian War: Environmental Impact

Sarah Phillips

When Ukraine first gained its independence in 1991, its lands still bore the legacy of Soviet power: an economy heavily reliant on technologies that polluted the country just as quickly as they consumed its resources (“Environmental”).  Nearly 25 years later, after the signing of the European Union-Ukraine Association Agreement, Ukraine began to accelerate the complex process of transforming its economic systems into greener ones (“Environmental”).  Even with the government’s particular focus on reducing Ukraine’s dependence upon coal and natural gas, however, up until February 2022, the nation still suffered from poor air quality and biodiversity (“Ukraine”).

            And when the Russo-Ukrainian War suddenly broke out that February, Ukraine’s defense efforts overtook its environmental ones, and conditions have begun to decline once again.  The war effort has required efficient production – of weapons and vehicles, uniforms and food – and of course, rapid production is rarely green (“Environmental”). 

            Compounding this barrier to Ukraine’s ecological healing are the direct and destructive impacts of the conflict upon countless people, places, and systems.  Private farms and national parks alike have been set aflame, and much of the once-fertile soil and water has been polluted by damaged industrial facilities (Guillot).  Ukrainian authorities estimate that nearly one-third of the country’s protected ecosystems have been affected by the Russian assault (“Environmental”).

            Countries with economic ties to Ukraine have been feeling those affects for months, too – and disadvantaged and developing countries are about to feel them more acutely.  In mid-July, likely in retaliation to a Ukrainian strike on Russia’s bridge to Crimea, Russia backed out of a grain deal (facilitated by the United Nations) that allowed Ukraine to export grain through the Black Sea (Reuters).  Ukraine is an incredibly valuable source of grain for many countries – particularly Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya, whose citizens did not enjoy widespread food security even before the termination of the agreement (Reuters).  This social issue is a mere taste of what may soon become a more long-term environmental disaster should climate change continue to stunt Ukraine’s crops (“World”).

            The international Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) projects that “Post-war reconstruction” of Ukraine’s environment “will be a monumental task” (“Environmental”).  Undoubtedly, the international support that Ukraine has received over the past year and a half will continue to be essential long after the end of the conflict (“The Toxic”).  But, even in the midst of bloodshed, the nation has already begun: Ukraine’s Post-war Recovery and Development Plan is being laid out “following the green economy and low-emission development principles” and has identified several primary goals, including the sustainable consumption of natural resources, the promotion of biodiversity, and the designation of protected ecosystems (“Environmental”).

Works Cited

“Environmental Impacts of the War in Ukraine and Prospects for a … – OECD.” OECD, 1 July 2022, www.oecd.org/ukraine-hub/policy-responses/environmental-impacts-of-the-war-in-ukraine-and-prospects-for-a-green-reconstruction-9e86d691/. 

Guillot, Louise, et al. “The Environmental Scars of Russia’s War in Ukraine.” POLITICO, 22 Feb. 2023, www.politico.eu/article/environment-scars-russia-war-ukraine-climate-crisis/. 

Reuters. “Russia Halts Grain Deal in What UN Calls Blow to Needy People Everywhere.” Reuters, 18 July 2023, www.reuters.com/world/europe/crimea-bridge-key-russian-supply-line-damaged-two-dead-reports-blasts-2023-07-17.

“The Toxic Legacy of the Ukraine War.” UNEP, 22 Feb. 2023, www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/toxic-legacy-ukraine-war. 

“Ukraine and the Others: The Environmental Impacts of War.” European Youth Portal, 22 Feb. 2023, youth.europa.eu/year-of-youth/young-journalists/ukraine-and-others-environmental-impacts-of-war_en.

World Bank Group. “New World Bank Study Analyzes Climate Change Impact in Ukraine, Calls for Action to Build Resilience in Agriculture.” World Bank, 9 Feb. 2022, www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2022/02/09/new-world-bank-study-analyzes-climate-change-impact-in-ukraine#:~:text=By%20the%20middle%20of%20the,2050%2C%20as%20compared%20to%202010.

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