As many people in the world are celebrating Christmas season, the traditional festival of lights, Ukraine is faced with a brutal winter. The destructive Russian invasion and subsequent air campaign with drones and cruise missiles targeting Ukraine’s energy infrastructure is plunging the country into darkness, with widespread humanitarian and environmental consequences. A new PAX Environment and Conflict Alert (ECA) on Ukraine has documented how continues bombing of critical infrastructure has damaged over 213 amount of powerplants and more than 63 substations, resulting in widespread health and environmental risks. Millions of Ukrainians are relying on electricity for heating, cooking and transportation, which is particularly needed in the harsh cold winter months.
The deliberate strikes against these facilities and subsequent lack of access to energy is causing wide-ranging humanitarian impacts, and massive displacement of civilians. Absence of heating, access to water and functioning sewage systems can cause serious public health risks. Lack of electricity also impacts healthcare, education and livelihoods of Ukrainian civilians. Understandable, civilians will resort to alternative forms of fuels, including unstainable coping strategies by using more indoor heating from fuel or wood burners, that is exposing them to more indoor air pollution, while on the long-term contributing to deforestation of protected areas.
Apart from the humanitarian impacts, there are also serious environmental risks from targeting energy infrastructure, ranging from a severe risk to a nuclear melt-down at the Zaphorizhnya nuclear power plant, as its power supplies were damaged, to release of hazardous substances at bombed facilities, localized water, soil and air pollution and flooding of coal mines as water pumping is halted.
In collaboration with the Centre of Information Resilience, PAX is using open-source investigation methods, combined with a range of satellites for earth observations to document the environmental dimensions of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. An first ECA on Ukraine was released in March 2022 outlining the broader environmental impacts in the first months of the Russian invasion. Since then, PAX, with funding from UN Environment Program (UNEP) and Stichting Samenwerkende Hulp Organisaties (SHO) / Giro 555 is working to engage with humanitarian and environmental organisations to highlight these dimensions and engage in relevant multilateral forums to ensure rapid response and inclusion of environmental impacts in assessment and reconstruction programs.