Olga Lehan’s house near the Irpin River was flooded when Ukraine destroyed the dam to prevent Russian forces from storming the Kiev capital just days after the start of the war. A few weeks later, her tap water turned brown with debris.
“Drinking was not safe,” she said of the tap water in her village of Demydiv, about 40 kilometers north of Kiev on a tributary of the Dnieper.
Visibly nervous as she made her way through her house, the 71-year-old pointed out where the high water in March had caused her kitchen to become moldy, seeped into the well and ruined her garden.
Environmental damage caused by the eight-month war with Russia is worsening in most parts of the country, and experts warn of long-term consequences. Moscow’s att*cks on fuel depots released toxins into the air and groundwater, threatening biodiversity, climate stability and the health of the population.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, more than 6 million Ukrainians have limited or no access to clean water due to the war, and more than 692,000 acres of forest have been destroyed or cut down. According to the Audit Chamber, an NGO in the country, it has caused environmental damage worth more than $ 37 billion.
“This pollution caused by the war is not going to go away. This will have to be resolved by our descendants, planting forests or cleaning up polluted rivers, said Dmytro Averin, an environmental expert at the Zoi Environment Network, a Swiss-based non-profit organization.
While the worst-hit areas are in the more industrialized eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, where there have been fights between government troops and pro-Russian separatists since 2014, he said the damage had spread elsewhere.
“In addition to fighting its victims, 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 arising from the 2006 month-long war between the country and Israel.
The health effects of contaminated water and exposure to toxins released by conflict “may take years to materialize,” he said.
After the flood in Demydivo, residents said their tap water was cloudy, tasted strange, and left a film on pots and pans after boiling. The village was under Moscow control until April, when Russian troops retreated after an unsuccessful attempt to capture the capital.
The Ukrainian authorities then began bringing in fresh water, but supplies stopped in October when the cistern broke down, forcing residents to drink the dirty water again.
“We have no other option. We have no money to buy bottles, Iryna Stetcenko told The Associated Press. She said her family had diarrhea and was concerned about the health of her two teenagers.
In May, the government took water samples, but the results were not disclosed, said Vyacheslav Muga, former acting head of the local government’s water service. The Food Safety and Consumer Protection Agency in Kiev has not yet responded to the AP’s request for results.
However, reports from other environmental groups showed the effects of the war.
In recent weeks, Russia has focused on key infrastructure such as power plants and water supplies. However, as early as July, the UN environmental protection body warned of serious damage to water infrastructure, including pumping stations, treatment plants and wastewater treatment plants.
The document, due soon to be published by the Conflict and Environment Observatory, a British charity, and the Zoi Environment Network, found evidence of pond contamination after a Russian rocket hit a fuel depot in the city of Kalynivka, around 18 years old. km southwest of Kyiv.
The pond, used for recreational purposes as well as for fish farming, showed a high concentration of fuel oil and dead fish on the surface – apparently from the oil that had leaked into the water. AP saw a copy of the report.
According to April’s REACH report, a humanitarian research initiative that tracks information in areas hit by crises, disasters and displacements, the levels of nitrogen dioxide released when fossil fuels are burned increased in areas to the west and southwest of Kiev. The report concluded that direct exposure can cause skin irritation and burns, while chronic exposure can cause respiratory disease and damage vegetation.
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The Ukrainian agricultural sector, a key part of its economy, has also suffered. The fires destroyed crops and livestock, burned thousands of hectares of forest and prevented farmers from completing their harvest, said Serhiy Zibtsev, professor of forestry at the Ukrainian National University of Life Sciences and Environmental Sciences.
“The fires are so enormous,” he said, adding that farmers “have lost everything they collected for the winter.”
The government in Kiev gives aid whenever it can.
In Demydiv and surrounding villages, flood victims received the equivalent of $ 540 each, said Liliia Kalashnikova, deputy head of the nearby town of Dymer. She said the government would do everything in its power to prevent long-term environmental effects, but did not specify how.
Governments have a duty to minimize environmental risks to the population, especially in war, said Doug Weir, director of research and policy at the Conflict and Environment Observatory, the UK’s monitoring organization.
Some Ukrainians have already given up hope.
“I feel depressed – there is water around and under my house,” said Tatiana Samoilenko, an inhabitant of Demydiv. “I don’t see much change in the future.”
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