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It will take years to clean up environmental damage in Ukraine – Chicago Tribune

Olga Lekhan’s home near the Irpin River was flooded when Ukraine destroyed a dam to prevent Russian troops from storming the capital, Kyiv, days before the war began. After a few weeks, her tap water turned brown from the contamination.

“It was unsafe to drink,” she said of the tap water in her village of Dzyamidau, about 24 miles north of Kiev on a tributary of the Dnieper.

Visibly upset as she walked through her home, the 71-year-old pointed to where high water in March turned her kitchen moldy, seeped into a well and ruined her garden.

Environmental damage from the eight-month war with Russia is mounting across much of the country, with experts warning of long-term consequences. Moscow’s attacks on fuel depots have led to the release of toxins into the air and groundwater, threatening biodiversity, climate stability and public health.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, because of the war, more than 6 million Ukrainians have limited or no access to clean water, and more than 692,000 hectares of forests have been destroyed or cut down. It caused more than $37 billion in environmental damage, according to the Accounting Chamber, a non-governmental group in the country.

“This pollution caused by war will not go away. It will be up to our descendants to decide whether to plant forests or clean up polluted rivers,” said Dmitry Averin, an environmental expert at the Zoi Environment Network, a non-profit organization based in Switzerland.

While the worst-hit areas are in the more industrialized eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, where fighting between government forces and pro-Russian separatists has raged since 2014, he said the damage had spread elsewhere.

“Besides combat losses, war is also hell for people’s health, physically and mentally,” said Rick Steiner, an American environmental scientist who advised the Lebanese government on environmental issues related to the month-long 2006 war between that country and Israel. .

The health effects of contaminated water and exposure to toxins caused by the conflict “can take years to manifest,” he said.

After the flood in Demidava, residents said that their tap water became cloudy, had a funny taste and left a film on pots and pans after cooking. The village was under the control of Moscow until April, when the Russian troops withdrew, having failed to take the capital.

Ukrainian authorities then began bringing in fresh water, but supplies stopped in October when a cistern broke, forcing residents to drink dirty water again, they said.

“We have no other option. We don’t have money to buy bottles,” Iryna Stetsenko told the Associated Press. Her family has diarrhea and she is worried about the health of her two teenagers, she said.

In May, the government took water samples, but the results have not been published, said Vyacheslav Muga, former acting head of the local water supply service. The Food Safety and Consumer Protection Agency in Kyiv has not yet responded to an AP request for the results.

Reports from other environmental groups, however, showed the effects of the war.

In recent weeks, Russia has targeted key infrastructure such as power plants and waterworks. But even in July, the UN environmental body was already warning of significant damage to water infrastructure, including pumping stations, sewage treatment plants and sewers.

The paper, to be released soon by the British charity Conflict and Environment Observatory and the Zoi Environment Network, found evidence of contamination of the reservoir after a Russian missile hit a fuel depot in the town of Kalinovka around 6 p.m. km southwest of Kyiv.

The pond, which is used for both recreation and fish farming, showed high concentrations of fuel oil and dead fish on the surface – apparently due to oil seeping into the water. A copy of the report was seen by the AP.

Nitrogen dioxide, which is released by burning fossil fuels, increased in areas west and southwest of Kyiv, according to an April report by REACH, a humanitarian research initiative that tracks information in areas affected by crisis, disaster and displacement. Direct exposure can cause skin irritation and burns, while chronic exposure can cause respiratory illnesses and damage vegetation, the report said.

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Ukraine’s agricultural sector, a key part of its economy, has also suffered. The fires damaged crops and livestock, burned thousands of hectares of forest and prevented farmers from completing their harvest, said Siarhei Zibtsev, a professor of forestry at the Ukrainian National University of Bioresources and Nature Management.

“The fires are so massive,” he said, adding that farmers “lost everything they were harvesting for the winter.”

The government in Kiev provides assistance when it can.

In Deamidava and surrounding villages, victims of the flood were paid $540 each, said Liliya Kalashnikova, deputy chairman of the neighboring town of Dimer. She said the government would do everything possible to prevent long-term environmental impacts, but she did not specify how.

Governments have a duty to minimize environmental risks to the public, especially during times of war, said Doug Weir, director of research and policy at the Conflict and Environment Observatory, a UK-based monitoring organisation.

Some Ukrainians have already lost hope.

“I feel depressed – there is water around and under the house,” says Tatsiana Samoilenko, a resident of Demidovo. “I don’t see much change in the future.”


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