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mardi 16 juin 2015

Blog The ecological dimension of the Donbass conflict

The ecological dimension of the Donbass conflict


Donbass is a long standing industrial heartland; with a high concentration of metallurgical & chemical factories. A 2010 report stated that there were over “1,100 industrial enterprises of mining, metallurgical, chemical, power and heavy engineering industries”, located in the region.

 “One fifth of the state’s industrial potential – of which 78% consists of environmentally hazardous production facilities of metallurgical and extractive industries, electricity generation and coke industry – is concentrated within the territory of Donetsk Oblast which makes up only 4.4% of the total area of Ukraine.”

The situation

The so-called "ATO"-  Anti Terrorist Operation has been taking place for just over a year. The steady destruction of the industrial base of Donbass is beginning to be noticed, particularly the environmental aspects. An article by the Zoi environment network deals with this topic & stated this “Although obtaining accurate data is difficult, indications are that the conflict has resulted in a number of civilian health risks, and potentially long-term damage to its environment.” Perversely, this concern has been voiced by Kiev government officials, such as in September 2014, where the Ukrainian Ecology Minister Andriy Mokhnik spoke to Radio Liberty about flooding of coal mines. He stated that “The Russian troops and mercenaries in Donbas are intentionally ruining infrastructure, resulting in catastrophic environmental pollution”.   Kiev simply denies the involvement of its army, so-called volunteer groups in the wholesale destruction of Donbass.

 On a side note, it beggars belief that Kiev can put the blame squarely on the Russians, when there is ample & clear evidence of Kiev’s deliberation targeting of key infrastructure in the Donbass region. One example of this is the evidence of captured Kiev ATO maps with targeting positions written down.  This pathetic political blame game shows the level of absurdity and surreal Catch-22 world that the post-Maidan Kiev government lives in.  Even Poroshenko commented on the destruction later in October 2014, where he stated that “half of the infrastructure and 42 percent of the industry” of Lughansk and Donetsk (Donbass) have been destroyed as the result of hostilities.   Of course there is a reason for exploiting this topic, since he also mentioned that “But my trips around the world show that we will be able to collect $1 billion from investors and restore Donbass very soon”. So it boils down to trying to get money, supposedly to help the region. He is melodramatizing the conflict since large swaths of Donbass is extremely unlikely to see any of so-called “reconstruction finance”.  Indeed to put this into perspective, Kiev has withheld all social security payments & salaries in Donbass, since the beginning of the summer in 2014.  By May 2014, the outstanding payments were already to the tune of 5 million hryvnas. Extrapolate this conservative figure for 1 whole year to get an idea of the figure for up to now.

In Euromaiden’s own words, the ecological destruction is briefly described: “In the course of the ATO, artillery targeting has caused fires and explosions at several ecologically dangerous production facilities. Among them are the Avdiyivka and Yasynivsk chemical plants, the Lysychansk oil processing and Kramatorsk industrial engineering plants, as well as the Tochmash and Styrol factories.”  Effectively, Kiev’s media has listed the areas damaged in the conflict. Taking into consideration this information, it is possible to put together more details on the deliberation devastation experienced by the people of Donbass.   Weapons used include mortar fire, artillery shells, MLRS rockets, and even powerful Tochka-U (SS-21 Scarab) missiles.

A disturbing pattern is revealed, of destruction on a large-scale, including a lengthy list of locations damage or destroyed including railway stations & junctions, hospitals, administrative buildings, marketplaces & bus stations. See the Registry for infrastructure of Donbass: http://www.реестр.укр/en/ .  It is therefore not surprising that such industries are deliberately targeted by the ATO forces in order to harass, scare, and suppress the population, by  firstly depriving them of a livelihood & secondly by making the physical environment unsustainable.  Industrial plants are damaged, destroyed or put out of action. If a plant is hit or destroyed, a range of polluting materials can be released into the air or into the ground,  potentially leaving a toxic legacy for civilians in the region.

Case examples of heavy industry shutdown or damage

Here is just a limited selection as examples of the situation in Donbass:

⦁    The Tochmash plant has been regularly targeted even as recently as June 2015,(
⦁    The burning of an oil refinery, releasing airborne pollutants. (
⦁    Donetsk Plant of Chemical Products, (DZHI) was severely damaged by a shell that hit its ammunition depot on 21 Sept 2014 & finally destroyed with Scarab rocket on 8 Feb 2015. (Video footage of blast:
⦁    Avdiivka Coke and Chemical Plant (AKHZ) has been hit by 165 mortars during the conflict. []

 In one specific  named case, the area in which the chemical plant ‘Stirol’ is located in Donetsk had been under repeated attacks since May 2014.  In August 2014, plant operators feared that a toxic leak of nitrochlorobenzene could be potentially released if the plant is hit.  However, the plant stopped ammonia synthesis and processing back in May 2014.

It is not clear if any monitoring is being carried on the effects of infrastructure damage & destruction of facilities. Here is just another small selection of industrial facilities targeted in Donbass,  (, or this twitter message:

The State Factory of Chemical Products, Donetsk (July 2015 Update)

A special mention with regards to this, since several Western media outlets have produced articles on a "dirty bomb" being developed by the DNR. These simpled-minded & alarmist articles based on hearsay, provide very little background information on the numerous attacks on the State Factory of Chemical Products.

Addendum 18 June: There is a twist to the series of shelling & missile strikes, in the apparent use of a thermobaric weapon to  try to wipe the State Factory of Chemical Products, off the map.  It is likely that radiation levels in Donetsk could increase, since according to an expert, there is a nuclear waste storage site in the vicinity. The context of this is truly disturbing if it does happen, as it seems to show the plans of Kiev, to turn parts of Donbass into a ecological wasteland & therefore render it uninhabitable.
Summary of first 7 months of conflict

In just the first 7 months of the conflict, significant industrial facilities had to be shut down due to the ATO military operations including:

May:  Gorlovska chemical & coke giant Stirol, ( 4000 employees); June: Severodonetsk chemical plant “Azot” – 8700 employees, July: “Gorlivka machine-building plant”- 500 employees.

August: Enakievo Steel Plant – 7300 employees, Enakievskiy coke and chemical plant – 1200 employees, Khartsyzsk pipe plant – 2700 employees, Avdiivka Coke and Chemical Plant (AKHZ) – 4000 employees, Company-manufacturer of household appliances “Nord” – 3500 employees; Alchevsk Iron & Steel Works – 14500 employees, Yasinovskiy coke and chemical plant – 3300 employees, blast furnace at the Donetsk Metallurgical Plant– 10400 employees.

It must be noted a number of plants including  the Lysychansk oil processing and Kramatorsk industrial engineering plants, along with the Severodonetsk chemical plant “Azot have been back in Kiev’s hands since summer 2014. It would be interesting to see what progress or extent of efforts made by Kiev authorities to repair damage and or deal with the environment consequences of the conflict.   Can it be assumed that this theoretically ought to be part of the $1 billion aid package that Poroshenko mentioned?  It remains to be seen what is the current situation & the state of play?

Underground storage & test sites

In a report, a Ukrainian Mining Union expressed its concern over a potential Donbass ecological catastrophe as uncontrolled flooding of [disused] mines could release nuclear & chemical pollution.  Additional areas of significant long- term environmental concern, which is not helped by the state of current conflict:

  •  Yunkom mine, which was the site of a nuclear explosion in 1979,
  •  Oleksandr-Zakhid mine, used as underground storage for hazardous substances in the 1980s.
Synopsis of the situation, (or should I say the poisoned legacy left by the URSS & not dealt with since the Soviet period):

Coal Mines shutdown or damage

Out of a total of 95 state mines in Donbass only 24 were in normal operation; 13 mines were totally destroyed and 57 operated on a minimum capability.  This seriously affects an industry that had previously employed around 70 000 miners. 9 coal mines flooded due to the destruction of the mine infrastructure &  power lines feeding pumping stations.  It has to be noted that inactive mines that are flooded can have a potential serious impact on groundwater due to increased contamination seepage of toxic substances. See this guide from the EPA  on hazards:

Water Supply destruction & contamination

Early on in the conflict, the principal urban drinking water network were targeted a number of times, causing widespread shortage of drinking water in towns & cities across Donbass.  The OSCE mentioned this in one of their June 2014 reports relating to a main pumping station and pipeline for the Donetsk city; [].  We are talking about hundred of thousands of inhabitants having their water supplied cut off or disrupted by shelling.

The  the Dnieper-Donbas Canal used for water supply was breached early on in the conflict.  Water & sewage infrastructure were put out of service during the first half of 2015 due to the destruction of power lines during shelling an example:, & here .

The beginning of June 2015 saw the head of the (Kiev controlled) Lugansk administration, Gennady Moskal, order the shutdown of water supply to parts of Donbass.
"The Ukrainian side almost completely stopped the supply of water. Aydar pumping station has stopped supply, and so did others" - said Makhurenko

UNICEF reported that  "at least 700,000 people are without access to safe drinking water in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts."

All questions should be addressed to the opposite side. What about numerous power stations, heating and sewage plants across Donbass deliberately targeted by Ukrainian artillery? What about technical teams being shot at while trying to repair them [ ]

Pre conflict water use has been detailed in April 2015,,

Military operations  & use of munitions

Interestingly, a Ukrainian environmental NGO, EPL, has carried out some studies in selected areas heavily affected by shelling, “EPL studied non-organic substances but shell explosions can also cause emission of organic substances that can travel for long distances via air and water ways.”  Findings showed concentrations of heavy metals linked to convention munitions.  These limited studies  may offer a glimpse of what are the local effects of widespread use of munitions,  similar to what the US army was aware since the 1980s in relation to the soil & air quality of military ranges.

ATO forces bombardment of populated areas by phosphorous munitions also can be an adverse impact on the environment, since it is a toxic chemical.  The large-scale use of phosphorous  in shells over a period of time is potentially harmful to the environment. " white phosphorous  has destructive effects on the environment and also plants and may remain within the deep soil for several years without any changes." It also may impact  local groundwater as well. 

Nature reserves

The least ecological serious issue for Donbass as it currently stands, nevertheless it is has been featured in the Kiev media. It is reported that  "the most widespread problem is fires triggered by military blasts – an estimated 17% of forests and 24% of steppes in the ATO zone were affected."[MENR & an NGO Environment, People, Law (EPL)]

The tone set by officials & experts in Kiev is negative to say the least, as exemplified by this "MENR has assigned specialists to monitor the situation in occupied territories and to restore environmental safety when they are returned to Ukrainian control."

 Interactive google map

The potential consequence of military strikes on plants cannot under estimated over the long term, if we take into consideration the effects of military operations in Yugoslavia & also Iraq. Numerous industries were targeted by NATO  during the 1999 attack on Serbia.   Noteworthy cases include the attacks on the Pancevo plant, where NATO deliberately destroyed  storage tanks that contained the raw materials for PVC.

In brief

In Donetsk, an estimated 9,464 facilities and other structures were destroyed – including:

  • 5,302 residential buildings;
  • 53 hospitals and other medical facilities;
  • 250 schools and pre-schools;
  • 13 colleges and universities;
  • 17 sports venues;
  • 32 cultural institutions;
  • 88 commercial enterprises;
  • 56 industrial facilities;

  • 605 power lines and distribution facilities;

  • 148 heat supply facilities;
  • 30 water supply facilities;
  • 2,669 gas supply facilities;
  • 53 road and transport infrastructure elements;
  • Donetsk airport – turned to rubble; and
  • the Saur-Monila memorial complex – entirely destroyed.
In Lugansk, an estimated 8,500 facilities and other structures were destroyed – including:
  • 7,899 residential buildings;
  • 65 hospitals, clinics and laboratories;
  • 3 gas distribution stations;
  • 33 heat supply facilities;

  • 43 water supply facilities;
  • 37 government buildings;
  • 97 schools and pre-schools;
  • 68 cultural institutions; and
  • 77 churches

Munition plant blast video:

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