War has inflicted €36bn damage on Ukraine's environment: Minister

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By Apostolos Staikos with Joshua Askew
A journalist runs from a burning wheat field during his assignment after Russian shelling, a few kilometres from Ukrainian-Russian border in the Kharkiv region, July 29, 2022.
A journalist runs from a burning wheat field during his assignment after Russian shelling, a few kilometres from Ukrainian-Russian border in the Kharkiv region, July 29, 2022.   -   Copyright  Mstyslav Chernov/Copyright 2022 The AP. All rights reserved

Not only has the war in Ukraine cost lives, but Russia's invasion has also significantly damaged the environment, according to the Ukrainian Minister of Environmental Protection. 

In an interview with Euronews, Ruslan Strilets said Ukraine's natural world had been devastated since the start of the war in February, inflicting an estimated cost of more than €36 billion.

The minister noted that across 7 months of grinding war more than 2,000 cases of environmental damage had been recorded by the authorities, adding that soil damage and air pollution alone posed "huge" costs of €11.4 and €24.6 billion, respectively. 

As of August, some 30% of Ukraine's protected natural areas, covering 3 million acres, have been ­­bombed, polluted, burned, or hit by military manoeuvres, according to the Ministry of the Environmental Protection and Natural Resources.

Strilets pointed out that the European Commission, together with the US State Department, was supporting projects that would help Ukraine recover its natural environment in the future.

"We see that the support of Europe and of other countries is only increasing," he told Euronews. "I am sure that the same situation will [exist] in the future."

"We will do our best to use this support not only for Ukraine but for all the world, and for [a] better future for civilisation," he added. 

One consequence of the war, according to Strilets, was that Ukraine had improved its environmental monitoring. 

The country has created a special task force, known as the State Environmental Inspectorate, to observe how the natural world is being damaged by the conflict, amid reports of Russian forces burning agricultural lands earlier in Spring. 

"Before the war, nobody had the same methodology," the minister told Euronews, adding that he "hoped" no one would need it in the future.

He highlighted how Poland, Lithuania and the Czech Republic were helping Kyiv implement new legislation to better protect the environment, which he claimed would help Ukraine join the European Union (EU). 

"We work harder to make our legislation better and synchronise it with the legislation of the European Union, so we can be a full member of the EU in the future," he said. 

On 28 February 2022, four days after it was invaded by Russia, Ukraine applied for EU membership.

Its bid is dogged by concerns that the country does not meet the bloc's eligibility criteria, particularly surrounding its political institutions and economy. The fact that Ukraine is at war also complicates the picture. 

In light of Ukraine's recent ground advances in the east of the country, which have routed Russian troops in, Strilets was confident that Ukraine would emerge victorious from the war.  

"Certainly I believe that we will win," he said. "In 7 months, our army has demonstrated very good results in the frontline." 

"This is because all the civilized world stands by our side ... because all the world understands that we do not defend only the Ukrainian borders. We defend the borders of all." 

To listen to the full interview, click on the player icon above.