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The environment: the silent casualty of the Ukraine war

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By Davit Kekenadze
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War increases the likelihood of forest fires
War increases the likelihood of forest fires   -   Copyright  Efrem Lukatsky/The Associated Press

For humans, war is an obvious tragedy.

But when the fighting stops, another more silent victim is discovered: the natural environment itself.

Ukraine may have averted even more nuclear contamination after Russia's military withdrew from its Chernobyl power plant but there are other concerns.

Danger of forest fires

"Huge areas of Ukraine are impacted,” says Bohdan Vykhor, Executive Director of WWF Ukraine. “There are regions of Ukraine where there are lots of stocks of hazardous waste. If the military destroys them, it may cause huge water pollution of very big rivers. War increases the probability of forest fires. And due to the high intensity, forest fires cause damage not just to people and air pollution, but also biodiversity."

In 2008 when Russia invaded Georgia fires broke out in the Borjomi-Khagarauli national park and large areas of forest were destroyed.

“After all these years, I’m now even more certain that in 2008, the harm to the environment was done on purpose,” says Irakli Ghvaladze. “There were different types of damage, for example, when ships were destroyed, fuel oil spilled and polluted the sea. The biggest damage was, of course, fires in Borjomi and Ateni Gorge. Almost 1,000 hectares were damaged. The territory was likely shelled with incendiary bombs, which caused huge fires. Of course, back then, it was not as easy to document everything, the technical capabilities were slim."

Impact on wildlife

According to one Georgian environmentalist, when Russia was waging war in Chechnya, many wild animals fled over the Caucasus Mountains.

"The impact on wild animals was evident in Georgia, which was where they were migrating,” says Nino Chkhobadze, Green Movement of Georgia — Friends of the Earth, Chairperson. “We watched this process, we saw with our own eyes what was happening in Georgia when Russia was waging war in Chechnya, how they were fleeing, I don’t mean only people…"

And now another war is wreaking havoc on the environment again.