Since the invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces in February 2022, the world's attention has focused on the country's heavily shelled cities. But Ukraine, which is located in an ecological transition zone, is also home to vibrant wetlands and forests, as well as a large area of pristine steppe. Russian troops have conducted military operations in more than a third of the country's protected natural areas, damaging ecosystems or negatively impacting the livelihoods of many animal and plant species.
Field reports and research on past armed conflicts suggest that the ecological impacts of conflict may be profound. Wars destroy habitats, kill wildlife, cause pollution and damage and degrade ecosystems at a high rate, with consequences that last for decades. The environment is a silent victim of conflict here. The national parks, nature reserves and other protected areas in Ukraine provide important ecosystem services. The war threatens natural resources. Soldiers dig trenches, tanks flatten vegetation, bombs scar the landscape and explosives start fires. Weapons spew toxic gases and particles into the air, and heavy metals enter the soil and water.
The military activities have sparked fires in some areas that are so large they can be seen from space, raising concerns about the destruction of critical breeding habitats for birds. Some of the administrative offices of occupied reserves have been ransacked and many staff have been evacuated. There are indications that environmental destruction is currently an explicit military tactic.
There is therefore a need for a project that examines the extent to which war damages protected areas and that can document this damage and provide a solid basis for future restoration measures.
The aim of the Ukraine-Nature project is to study and profile the damage to protected areas (e.g. national parks, biological reserves) and the natural resources they host, and to map the extent of the damage. The aim is to generate valuable data that will be useful for future reconstruction efforts.
Prof. Dr. (mult.) Dr. h.c. (mult.) Walter Leal
Head, Research and Transfer Centre "Sustainable Development and Climate
Hamburg University of Applied Sciences
Faculty of Life Sciences
T +49 40 42875-6313
Mobil/Cell phone: +49-172-7835489
Fax : +49-40-42875-6079
Ukraine-Nature (at) hamburg (dot) de