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Thu Jun 23, 2022, 12:58 PM

Russia Should Pay for Its Environmental War Crimes

AS RUSSIAN BOMBS and bullets have shattered buildings and ended lives, Ukrainian scientists have scrambled to catalog the war’s effects on the country’s natural biodiversity. Darting outside to check on bat colonies, frogs, or endangered plants, many have risked safety to map hot spots and secure data. Ukraine’s wildlands boast a diverse landscape of dense forests, alpine meadows, grasslands, wetlands, and marine estuaries, which house animals such as bears, wolves, lynx, gophers, grouse, storks, sturgeon, dolphins, and the furry blind mole rat. The country serves as an important waypoint for many species of migrating birds.

If anything, an environment’s value increases as war destroys what was once available, sometimes permanently. Damage to Ukraine’s air, water, plants, and animals will likely persist long after its cities are rebuilt. One day, the information Ukrainian scientists are collecting now may provide evidence for Russia’s environmental crimes. Russia should pay for this environmental devastation. If only the legal system could wake up to reality.

THE WAR IS taking its toll on Ukrainian wildlife. “A lot of animals are scared by the noise, by the vibration,” says Oleksii Marushchak, a conservation biologist based in Kyiv. Nesting places for birds have been ruined. Military vehicles have sunk into rivers and lakes, and with them untold tons of oil and other harmful chemicals. “They will destroy the food base for small animals like insects. No insects means no frogs; no frogs means no cranes.”

Fires, explosions, and collapsing buildings have filled Ukrainian air, water, and soil with harmful particulates and nitric acid. Poisoned resources can take decades to remediate.


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