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Exclusive Interview with the Minister of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources of Ukraine

For over a year, the Russian Invasion of Ukraine has had a devastating impact on the country's environment, causing significant damage to its natural resources, ecosystems, and overall environmental health. In this exclusive interview, Mr Ruslan Strilets, the Minister of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources of Ukraine, discusses the environmental impact of the war, the government's plans for environmental restoration, and the government's vision for integrating environmental aspects into the country's broader development goals and policies.
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Aniebiet: The invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation has undoubtedly caused significant challenges and destruction, including those related to the environment. Could you please share some thoughts on the environmental impact of the invasion on Ukraine's natural resources, ecosystems and overall environmental health?
Minister Ruslan Strilets: The losses for the Ukrainian environment are enormous. This is the first war since World War II to have such large-scale environmental consequences. Our rivers, seas, soil, and air are all contaminated with harmful substances and remnants of destroyed munitions. The total amount of damage has already reached 57 billion US dollars. We have destroyed and ruined national parks and reserves. "Holy Mountains, Askania Nova, Dzharylgach, Kinburn Spit," and this is not an exhaustive list.
The terrorist attack on the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant is certainly among the biggest Russian crimes. Ukraine lost 73% of the water from the reservoir, or more than 14 cubic kilometers of water. This is enough to water the entire world's population for 2 days. 60 thousand hectares of forest were flooded and damaged. 150 thousand hectares of protected areas of European importance were affected. These are national parks: "Nyzhniodniprovskyi, Velykyi Luh, and Kamianska Sich. The area is about the size of Mexico City, the capital of Mexico.
Large-scale fires at infrastructure and industrial facilities lead to air poisoning with particularly hazardous substances. Russian shelling has already burned more than 680 thousand tons of oil and fuel. All of this causes significant emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which deepens the climate crisis.
Missiles and unexploded ordnance have perhaps the greatest impact on all ecosystems. Today, 30% of Ukraine's territory requires demining. Every day, pyrotechnics of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine remove 1000 pieces of ammunition.
Currently, 20% of Ukraine's protected areas have been damaged or are at risk of being damaged, either in the occupied territories or in the areas where hostilities are taking place. In addition, 160 territories of the Emerald Network have been damaged or are under threat of damage, which poses risks to 600 species of fauna and 750 species of flora from the Red Data Book of Ukraine. In general, this contributes to the deterioration of the environment in Ukraine, a decrease in the quantity and quality of ecosystem services, a negative impact on public health, and a reduction in biodiversity, the loss of which cannot be fully measured economically.
This is only a small part of how the hostilities affect the Ukrainian environment. It is impossible to focus on one thing and single out any natural ecosystem, because they are all connected.
Currently, the work of environmentalists is to document all the damage in a high-quality manner so that in the future Ukraine can receive reparations from Russia for the destroyed environment.
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Aniebiet: Looking ahead, how is the Ukrainian government working to restore Ukraine's environment after the war? What will be the challenges associated with environmental restoration after the war?
Minister Ruslan Strilets: Of course, we are not sitting around waiting for the Victory. From what has already been done at the state level: The International Working Group on the Environmental Consequences of the War is working under the Office of the President of Ukraine. Two meetings have already been held. The last one resulted in the approval of a framework document:
https://www.president.gov.ua/storage/j-files-storage/01/20/49/f452d974d34fdb89a69e8af8644feb7f_1694848511.pdf



At the Council of Europe Summit in Reykjavik, the International Register of War Damage was introduced. It also includes an environmental component.
In the near future, the (UNEP) mission will present its report assessing the environmental impact of the dam explosion at the Kakhovka hydroelectric power station. They will also prepare recommendations for the restoration of protected areas affected by the flooding.
Currently, as part of the European Commission's proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council of the European Union establishing a Ukraine Fund, the developments that will form the basis of the Ukraine Plan for the EU's Ukraine Facility (UF) are being implemented.
The "Ukraine Plan" is a comprehensive document that will become a program for the restoration and economic development of the state for the next 4 years. Preliminarily, it will consist of six main blocks that will form a comprehensive vision of the Ukrainian economy.
The elaboration of the Ukraine Plan under the Ukraine Facility program will help attract EUR 50 billion of assistance from the European Commission to the Ukrainian economy, which was announced during the Ukraine Recovery Conference.
Environmental priorities in the restoration process:
  • Ukraine's recovery must be green. Using the best available climate-friendly technologies.
  • Infrastructure reconstruction should be based on the principle of "build back better."
We plan to build rehabilitation centers for animals. Including dolphins. A lot of work will be done to rehabilitate the land damaged by the hostilities. The surface layer of the soil has been significantly damaged by constant shelling and explosions, as well as the movement of heavy equipment. In general, I would like to say that it will take decades to restore our environment after this terrible war.
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Aniebiet: Finally, given the long-term importance of environmental protection for Ukraine's future, could you talk about the government's vision for integrating environmental aspects into the country's broader development goals and policies?
Minister Ruslan Strilets: Of course, despite the war, the Ministry of Environment continues to work on all areas of environmental policy. After all, sustainable development of the country is impossible without a clean and healthy environment.
While the war is still on, the Verkhovna Rada has already approved 12 European integration bills in the field of environment. This is more progress than in the previous 5 years.
Ukraine continues to implement reforms in waste management, environmental safety, nature reserves, water management, and environmental monitoring. We have improved the environmental impact assessment procedure and digitalized the strategic environmental assessment.
On July 9, 2023, the Law of Ukraine "On Waste Management" came into force, a long-awaited document that launches waste management reform and brings our legislation closer to EU legislation.
Ukraine has completed the subsoil use reform. At the end of 2022, the Verkhovna Rada adopted an important European integration law for the industry, which made important changes to the Subsoil Code of Ukraine. To implement it, the Ministry has developed the necessary acts - 8 government resolutions, amendments to the Code of Administrative Procedure, and a number of orders. All this is to ensure deregulation and modernize the rules of the sector, bringing them closer to EU standards.
Last year, the Government launched a forestry reform that will allow:
  • solve systemic problems that have been accumulating for years;
  • continue to move along the European path, and thus manage forests in accordance with EU standards and practices.
  • attract investments for the development of the industry.
The Ministry of Environment is actively working to create a national climate policy and to approximate Ukrainian legislation to EU legislation. Therefore, we are currently working on a draft framework law "On the Basic Principles of Climate Policy of Ukraine," which should become the basis for setting long-term national climate goals and low-carbon development of the country.
For several years now, we have been actively working on the implementation of a national greenhouse gas emissions trading system, which is our obligation under the Association Agreement with the EU. To this end, a system of monitoring, reporting, and verification of greenhouse gas emissions has been in place since 2021, which will create the preconditions for the future ETS by providing actual verified data on greenhouse gas emissions.
Even before the war, in 2021, the Government of Ukraine approved an updated Nationally Determined Contribution to the Paris Agreement by 2030, which sets a national target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 65% in 2030 from 1990 levels. We have now developed an action plan to address the current challenges and implement Ukraine's Updated Nationally Determined Contribution to the Paris Agreement by 2030. The document envisages transformations in key sectors of the economy.
Of course, the Government pays great attention to the post-war recovery and the future of Ukraine, which should be green using the best available technologies and knowledge. Ukraine's economic growth directly depends on the development and revival of the country's industry, which must be ensured in the post-war period.
Ukraine needs investment and international technical assistance for enterprises that want to implement European standards in accordance with the best available technologies and management practices under EU Directive 75, including energy efficiency and the use of energy-saving technologies.
So the environmental protection sector in Ukraine is developing despite all the obstacles. Indeed, we have to do much more to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. However, we are ready for it. Ukraine has already made too many sacrifices to win the war to abandon our plans for the future.

  • walter lungayi

    32 w

    It is disheartening to hear about the environmental damage caused by the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. It is commendable that the government is taking steps towards environmental restoration and integrating environmental aspects into development goals and policies. It is important for all countries to prioritize environmental protection and ensure that conflicts do not cause long-term damage to the environment.

    4
    • Patrick Kiash

      32 w

      Great article. I appreciate the sacrifices Ukraine is doing in terms of protecting the environment, their focus and insights that will help them achieve their goals.

      2
      • Gorffly mokua

        32 w

        💚💚

        1
        • Rotich Kim

          32 w

          Greatest challenge and environment suffer most we need to restructure the policy's so that environment can be given justice!

          4
          • Tabitha Kimani

            32 w

            The ecological destruction during war is really heart wrenching. Its very unfortunate.

            2
            • Sarah Chabane

              33 w

              Very interesting, thank you for sharing his words Aniebiet

              4
              • Gorffly mokua

                33 w

                Restore Eco-systems ,restore life!

                2
                • Kakundwa

                  33 w

                  Afforestation is key to save the environment

                  7
                  • Gorffly mokua

                    33 w

                    @Kakundwa We must plant tress to safeguard future generations!

                    2
                    • Jane Wangui

                      32 w

                      @gorffly_mokua we must plant where they were cut and plant where the are no trees.They are very important.

                      2
                      • Rashid Kamau

                        32 w

                        @Kakundwa Yes,it comes with plenty of benefits to our earth.

                        1
                      • Rashid Kamau

                        33 w

                        Restoring the ecosystem will be a major boost.

                        9
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