Since 2014, the ecological situation at the eastern border of Ukraine has shown a sign of significant deterioration as a result of Russian military aggression. The harmful effects on the environment have been amplified by the full-scale invasion, as Russia has utilized high-precision weapons to attack critical infrastructure such as hydroelectric power plants, water infrastructure, oil refineries, and chemical and pharmaceutical warehouses. This has resulted in the contamination of soil, air, surface and underground water. These have a direct impact on Ukrainian livelihoods and biodiversity leading to a major environmental catastrophe. Despite the severity of the situation, the effects on the environment have not received enough public attention, rendering it “an invisible front.” Last year, environmental NGOs and Ukraine’s Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources took steps to document the damage through initiatives such as EcoZagroza. According to EcoZagroza, there have been 2245 verified reports of military actions with a direct impact on the environment since the beginning of the full-scale invasion. As this report aims to show, the war has many far-reaching consequences on the environment, with Russia actively engaging in the weaponization of critical and civilian infrastructure and the environment. Accurately assessing the environmental damage is necessary for achieving justice and carries important implications for the post-war restoration and compensation plans.
Eastern Ukraine is a heavily industrialized region with an abundance of mines, factories, and refineries. The infrastructure has been subjected to frequent attacks by Russian missile strikes leading to the release of toxic substances into closed bodies of water and the ground. Since the beginning of Russian shelling, most mines in the region have been closed. The lack of supervision, and, thus, the lack of pumping mechanisms, risk the flooding of mines which leads to acid mine drainage or the outflow of toxic, contaminated water, usually with sulfur-bearing materials and metals. In recent river water samples from the Lviv area, the concentration of ammonia and nitrates was 165 and 50 times higher than the recommended limits, respectively. The shelling of the Voda Donbasu water treatment company led to frequent water interruptions and a general deterioration of water and sanitation infrastructure in the Donbas region for over 3 million people; since 2014, the water infrastructure has been damaged over 300 times leading to shortages and deterioration of sanitary condition introducing the possibility of the spread of water-borne diseases. Political and environmental experts have called this the Russian ‘weaponization of water.’ Russia is also emptying the Kakhovka Reservoir in Southern Ukraine which stores potable water for hundreds of thousands of people and provides irrigation for almost 500,000 million acres of farmland. It also supplies water for cooling of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. Moreover, the destruction of toxic waste treatment facilities leads to contamination of nearby surface water and carries risks of long-term ground contamination, which can seep into groundwater. It is worth noting that 25% of Ukraine relies on groundwater for their water supply, amplifying the severity of the issue.
The destruction of vital infrastructure, such as oil depots and sewage treatment plants, along the Azov-Black Sea coast can result in devastating consequences, including oil spills and the release of toxic waste to the sea. This would cause significant disruptions to marine life, including protected species as well as fish which are necessary for subsistence. The Russian use of underwater mines and radar equipment in the Black Sea has a disastrous impact on the marine ecosystem. Environmental organizations have reported a distressing number of deceased Black Sea dolphins and porpoises: by November 2022, the estimated number reached 50,000. These species are vulnerable not only to chemical pollution, but also acoustic pollution: the use of underwater sonar systems affects marine mammals that rely on echolocation for orientation and, ultimately, survival. This issue demands the immediate attention of countries surrounding the Black Sea, including Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey.
More than 200,000 hectares of Ukrainian land are currently contaminated with debris, mines, and shells. The Russian military uses old Soviet equipment that runs on harmful propellants. The chemical compounds in the propellants cause immediate and long-lasting contamination of the soil. The most contaminated soil can be found at the locations where heavy equipment exploded. Not only do explosions leave behind large volumes of burnt metal that is compounded of elements damaging to soil, but they also result in spills of various liquids carried by military vehicles, including fuel and lubricant. Once a vehicle explodes, these toxic substances leak out and are absorbed by the soil. The high concentration of heavy metal in the soil constitutes a threat to human health and the arability of agricultural land. As a result, it will take decades for Ukraine to restore its food production.
While Ukraine occupies only 6% of Europe’s territory, it is home to 35% of the continent’s biodiversity. Forest fires, loud explosions, and contamination of soil and water lead to the destruction of natural habitats. Many species have migrated, changing both the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Since the beginning of the invasion, there have been more than 1500 reported cases of destruction of the ecosystem, including biosphere reserves and national parks. Indigenous species’ habitats like the Irpin wetlands may be irreversibly damaged due to war.
Air pollution and climate change
The use of explosive weapons, targeting of chemical warehouses and fossil fuel infrastructure, and wildfires are the leading causes of air pollution. Notable examples include the explosion of the 2022 Kharkiv firework warehouse as well as the 2017 Kalynivka ammunition depot explosion. Moreover, the destruction of military equipment, including tanks and armored combat vehicles (ACVs) are the leading causes of emissions of polluting substances into the atmosphere. This carries immediate risks to human health causing respiratory issues such as pneumonia and bronchitis. The war has also increased the release of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions which directly impacts global warming. In the first seven months of the invasion, at least 100 million tons of CO2 were released in the atmosphere.
Implications for Post-War Restoration
While the Ukrainian government, activists, and civil society are gathering environmental data, recording instances of war damage to nature, the question of how do we keep Russia accountable for its ecocide in Ukraine remains.
Ukraine estimated the measurable, immediate environmental damage from Russia’s war at $46 billion. In addition to direct damages, Russia’s war against Ukraine has diverted Ukraine’s resources away from environmental policies and climate action, which has long-term implications for sustainable development. After almost a decade of work, the International Law Commission, which is the legal body within the UN, adopted the final version of 27 Draft Principles for environmental protection in relation to armed conflict in May 2022. This is a positive and innovative development as the proposed principles blend the laws of armed conflict and best practices, encouraging States and international organizations to ensure that “damage does not remain unrepaired or uncompensated,” among other provisions. The principles will be referred to the UN General Assembly for further consideration.
Ukraine is exploring various avenues that will allow it to hold Russia accountable for the environmental damage. The crime of ecocide has been included in the Ukrainian criminal code in 2001. At the international level, the International Criminal Court does not currently recognize ecocide as a crime despite growing pressure to do so; however, international humanitarian law prohibits employing methods of warfare that intend to damage the natural environment. Ukraine has been clear that it will seek reparations from Russia, which could potentially be extracted through seized Russian assets in specific countries. President Zelenskyy keeps ecocide high on the agenda in his 10-point peace plan, which is also one of the country’s preconditions for entering peace negotiations with Russia.
There are few precedents of compensation mechanisms at the international level. The Compensation Commission was established by the UN Security Council in 1991 to require Iraq to pay reparations for damage during its invasion of Kuwait, including environmental damage. With Russia having veto power in the Security Council, this might not be an option. However, the resolution “Furtherance of remedy and reparation for aggression against Ukraine” adopted by the General Assembly in November 2022 recommended developing a register of the damages to the environment at the international level, which could be a step towards accountability.
Environmental damage affects the health, food supply, and livelihoods of Ukrainians. The ecological consequences have implications beyond local borders, affecting transboundary air and waters like the Black Sea. Nongovernmental and governmental organizations alike are monitoring environmental damage to estimate the required funds and time to restore the civilian and critical infrastructure, and the ecosystem. Full restoration of the environment will take decades and the long-term effects will likely remain overlooked due to difficulties in measurement and lack of legal mechanisms. Nevertheless, seeking accountability for the immediate environmental damage will be crucial in achieving justice and will create an important precedent for the future.
ByZuzanna Iwanejko, Maryna Maiboroda, and Daryna Lesniak
Cottrel et al. (2022). “Explosive Weapons Use and the Environmental Consequences: Mapping Environmental Incidents in Ukraine” The Journal of Conventional Weapons Destruction.
Kroeger, Alix (2023). “How the War in Ukraine is Killing Marine Mammals” BBC https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20221222-how-the-war-in-ukraine-is-killing-marine-mammals
Rawtani et al. (2022). “Environmental damages due to war in Ukraine: A perspective.” Science of Total Environment
The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has had a profound impact on the lives of countless individuals and communities. The Razom Advocacy team recaps the past year of the full-scale invasion in Ukraine and provides a comprehensive overview of the events and developments that have taken place over the past year, including the impact of the conflict on human lives, infrastructure, and the broader geopolitical landscape.
Food security is a vital aspect of national security, and in recent years, Ukraine, with its fertile black soil, has become a significant player in the global agricultural market and established itself as the breadbasket of Europe. However, Russia’s invasion plagued Ukraine with war, and the ongoing conflict has disrupted the country’s agricultural industry and affected its ability to export its produce. In what follows, we aim to explore the relationship between food security and war in Ukraine and to understand the impact of the ongoing conflict on the country’s ability to feed its people and contribute to global food security.
Despite the horrors of the last year of Russia’s full-scale invasion and war in Ukraine, Americans – both of Ukrainian-American descent and from other backgrounds – have united together to advocate on behalf of our shared values of freedom and self-determination. In 2022, the Razom Advocacy Team was able to organize an advocacy network of more than 1,454 individuals. With all of your tireless support, we were able to achieve some notable successes throughout the year.
In 2022, our Advocacy Team members and our network of Razom Advocates held more than 526 meetings with Congressional offices to ask for critical support for Ukraine such as military aid, the strengthening of sanctions, and economic assistance. Meetings weren’t the only way our advocates reached out to their Members of Congress – they also sent 3,671 messages to Capitol Hill, urging Congress to declare Russia a State Sponsor of Terrorism and to label Russia’s actions in Ukraine a genocide, among other important advocacy messages. By joining our advocacy network, individuals can call, send emails, and engage with their lawmakers on Twitter. Sign-up for the Razom advocacy network here to take an active role in promoting Ukrainian victory.
Engagement with Congressional offices through meetings and sending messages via action alert are crucial for affirming the importance of supporting Ukraine. In order to facilitate these connections, Razom for Ukraine and our 42 partner organizations of the American Coalition for Ukraine hosted our inaugural Ukraine Action Summit in September of 2022. During the Summit, 270 advocates from 33 states met with their federal lawmakers’ offices on Capitol Hill for a total of 176 meetings with Congressional members and staff.
Social Media Engagement
Social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram provide a low-barrier entry point for individuals wishing to get involved in the common goal of Ukrainian victory, making social media a critical tool that the Razom Advocacy Team employs in its advocacy. In 2022, our team launched several social media initiatives to raise awareness about the war in Ukraine that reached more than 150,000 individual accounts.
After the inception of the full-scale invasion, Razom for Ukraine began to organize weekly Twitter Spaces to educate listeners on the most relevant topics around the war. In 2022, we were honored to be joined by more than 40 invited experts speaking on topics that ranged from the recent military victories of the Ukrainian army to Ukrainian Independence Day traditions. You can join our Friday Twitter Spaces by following the Razom for Ukraine Twitter account.
If you’d like to follow current events in Ukraine and keep up with our initiatives, Razom provides daily updates on the most important events of the war on Twitter and Instagram, and our network of more than 100,000 subscribers helps to spread this information, further educating the public on what is important for Ukrainian victory.
Without critical partnerships with like-minded organizations and the support of advocates like you, these accomplishments would not have been possible.
Thank you to all of our advocates and supporters for making all of our advocacy work possible in 2022 – we could not have done this without your passionate phone calls, emails, tweets, and donations. We hope to continue this momentum into 2023 and work together to help achieve Ukrainian victory together.
The continuation of Russia’s war against Ukraine and thus the ongoing need for military aid and foreign funding presents the necessity to revisit the US’s strategic interests in a Ukrainian victory. This report outlines key strategic issues the US would have to grapple with should Russia not be defeated and critical interests in a Ukrainian victory. In what follows, we analyze these issues through the frameworks of regional security, protecting democracy worldwide, global geopolitical threats, access to resources, and access to human capital.
1. Regional Security
US aid to Ukraine is one of the best investments the US can make to diminish Russia’s security threat to both Europe and the US. The military aid provided to Ukraine thus far has allowed Ukraine to inflict major damage on Russia’s ability to fight future wars or threaten Europe.
Since late February, Russia has lost over3000 tanks, 6000 fighting vehicles, and 280 planes and has had upward of 100,000 Russian troop casualties (as of January 7, 2023) – approximately half of Russia’s conventional military capability before its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. Through supporting Ukraine militarily, the US is able to handle one of its greatest threats without risking US lives.
Ukrainians are fighting to contain Russia’s imperialistic ambitions and prevent Russia from incursions into NATO territory, in which case the US would be obligated to take military action. Political and defense leaders across NATO member states in the region have warned about potential Russian incursions if Russia achieves its goals in Ukraine.
The Ukrainian armed forces will leave the war with a heightened knowledge of the aggressor’s fighting tactics and substantial combat experience. This puts Ukraine in a position to be an asset to NATO, especially with respect to providing strategic and practical training for NATO troops.
Blank Check Myth – Some have likened Ukraine aid to writing a ‘blank check,’ alluding to the assumption that what the US is doing in supporting Ukraine is essentially ‘charity work’. In practice, while Ukrainians are fighting for their existence, a defeated Russia would create significant security dividends for the United States by reducing Russia’s capacity to wage war and make threats. Supporting Ukraine is a significant investment in US and global security.
2. Protection of Global Democracy and Maintaining a Liberal International Order
Supporting Ukraine is an investment into global security and democracy. Ukraine is at war not just with Russia, but with the informal coalition of authoritarian regimes including Belarus, Iran, and North Korea, all of which are involved in aiding the Kremlin’s military efforts. Ukrainians are risking their lives for democracy and freedom in spite of this global authoritarian campaign.
The US should support Ukraine’s fight to protect freedom, international law, and prove to existing and potential aggressors that no one can succeed in violating international borders.
Tolerance of Russian aggression would only encourage future aggression from either Russia (as seen from the recent past – Georgia in 2008, Ukraine in 2014, and Syria in 2015, to name a few) or other potential aggressors (especially China). A robust response would serve as a warning that such behavior will not be tolerated.
Finally, Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and Ukraine’s resistance are gradually leading to the reform of the international multilateral system.
While the conversations about the need to reform the United Nations and the Security Council have been ongoing for a while, only with the full-scale war in Ukraine has it become especially evident that the current international order is unable to maintain peace and security in the world.
During the High-Level Week of the UN General Assembly in September 2022, a record number of countries, including Global South countries that had been silent for a long time, came forward with proposals on the reform of the Security Council, including the expansion of the Council’s membership to ensure regional diversity. In the first months of the war, the UN finally adopted the “Veto Initiative,” which is aimed at improving accountability at the Security Council, particularly, the accountability of P5 countries; other conversations on the ways to make the UN fit for its purpose are ongoing and will most likely lead to significant shifts within the organization.
Supporting Ukraine credibly demonstrates the US’s willingness to take action and its ability to confront aggressors.
This is a show of strength that would send a clear message to China (the US’s current no. 1 security concern), which, following the US’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021, had already started to doubt the US’s resolve in addressing overseas crises.
A Russian defeat will have the effect of nullifying a potential Putin-Xi alliance, advancing the US’s strategic priority of containing China’s military capabilities.
4. Access to Resources
So far, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to a global food crisis, exposing the weaknesses in the world’s food systems which had already struggled with the impacts of supply chain disruptions.
Prior to the full-scale war, Ukraine provided 45 million tonnes of grain to the market every year. Ukraine is the largest global exporter of sunflower oil, 3rd biggest exporter of barley, 4th largest exporter of corn, and 5th exporter of wheat in the world. A Ukrainian victory will help alleviate the food crisis and potential famine all over the world, especially in Global South countries that feel the impacts of Russia’s invasion on food security the most severely. Only a full Ukrainian victory will lead to stability in food production and exports from the region – the destruction of Ukrainian farmland, farm machinery, and infrastructure are core elements of Russia’s military strategy and Russian occupation of Ukrainian agricultural communities will result in continued instability.
In addition to helping feed food-deficient nations, Ukrainian agricultural produce was also used in essential products in the United States. For instance, the inaccessibility of Ukrainian sunflower seed oil as a result of the war heavily contributed to the national baby formula shortage (sunflower seed oil is a key ingredient in baby formula).
Agricultural products aside, Ukraine has an abundant supply of raw materials, including reserves of coal, natural gas, iron ore, manganese, salt, oil, graphite, sulfur, uranium etc. Ukraine is 7th in the world in iron extraction, accounting for 2.4% of global output (39M tonnes). It’s also 6th place in titanium extraction and 2nd place in the world in gallium extraction. A Ukrainian victory will allow these resources to become available for stable export again.
Additionally, it is significant to note that Ukraine holds extensive reserves of resources defined as Critical Raw Materials (“raw materials that are economically and strategically important for the European economy, but have a high-risk associated with their supply”). This includes, but is not limited to, natural graphite, lithium, and beryllium. In 2021, Ukraine signed a special Memorandum with the EU about a strategic partnership regarding CRM.
The abundance of raw materials is evidence of Ukraine’s indispensability to the European economy. In the case of a Russian victory, there is a risk of the reserves falling into Russian hands and being cut off from the European market.
5. Access to Human Capital
Ukraine is an IT powerhouse. It exports $6.8 billion of services a year with more than 285,000 employed in the IT industry serving clients all over the world. Prior to the war, Ukraine’s IT sector was ranked fourth in the world.
The Ukrainian technology sector has also enjoyed substantial growth as is seen by the record $2 billion in growth revenue from export services in just the first quarter of 2022. Ukrainian IT specialists continue to play an important role in the global tech industry, serving as one of the biggest IT outsourcing markets in the world.
A Ukrainian victory is not only beneficial but also necessary for the advancement of global security, especially in relation to shattering Russia’s imperialist agenda and containing China’s expansionist pursuits. The war in Ukraine is a challenge to democracy; thus, it is important to acknowledge that only a Ukrainian victory would legitimize and reinforce democracy and international liberal principles. Finally, Ukraine is rich in resources, including agricultural produce, critical raw materials, energy sources, and human capital. Some of the aforementioned resources are indispensable to the rest of the world and all of which would become more accessible again with a Ukrainian victory. Russian troops leaving Ukrainian territory is a prerequisite to maintaining global order, upholding the principles of democracy internationally, containing security threats from China and other authoritarian states, and allowing Ukraine to export critical resources freely.
The Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center, in partnership with Razom for Ukraine, summarizes the $8.5 billion supplied by the United States to Ukraine in direct budget support. From pensions for seniors to salaries for first responders, US budget support has helped to guarantee Ukrainian society’s ability to defend itself and preserve continuity of government services.
In response to the proposal by the Biden Administration to introduce legislation that would designate Russia as an Aggressor State Responsible for a Campaign of Terror Against Civilians in Ukraine (ASRCTACU), the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, the Joint Baltic American National Committee, and Razom issued the following statement: