Starting from June 2014, EPL has been monitoring the conditions of protected areas in Donetsk and Luhansk regions because of the war. Most of reliable facts can be found on EPL’s web-site in the thematic news1 and research2 sections. EPL experts released more than 20 materials in collections of academic papers and conference theses devoted to the functioning of protected areas during war.
Professional research in this period in protected areas on the government-controlled or liberated lands, was carried out by staff of the reserves or by civil activists. In particular, it is worth noting the courageous on-site survey of a number of protected objects in the ATO zone led by the UHHRU3. At the same time, during the last four years, neither central executive authorities nor local self-governance bodies have organized any independent study of this problem.
Back in the first year of the war, we proposed to create a special unit in one of the central authority that would track and accumulate knowledge about the losses incurred by the environment as a result of hostilities. However, unfortunately, the state has not expressed any interest in this issue.
Donetsk area is the part of Ukraine where almost all first reserves were organized in the early 20th century. Unique natural monuments and endemic habitats attracted attention of scientists and environmentalists since long times. In particular, biologists had paid special attention to the cretaceous flora of Donets river adjacent area, Stone graves, the Holy Mountains and the Azov spit. Since these territories got protected status, more than 2000 academic articles have been published about them4.
When part of Donetsk region was occupied in 2014, the region had 117 protected territories and reserves covering about 92 thousand ha. 40 of them are in occupied territories (23 thousand ha)5, which is 25,2 %. 12 of them (96,4% of all protected territories that are in the occupied area) have been harmed by the hostilities in this or another way. For example, the regional landscape park “Donetsk ridge” has completed burned down.
However, there are losses in protected areas in territories controlled by the Ukrainian government. In particular, all the largest protected areas of the government-controlled part of Donetsk region were harmed during the hostilities. In general, we know about 17 such objects (39 thousand ha), which is 45.5% of the territory of protected areas in the government-controlled part of Donetsk region. The hostilities took place in the territory of the Ukrainian steppe natural reserve “Cretaceous flora” and “Kalmiusk”, in the national parks “Holy Mountains” and “Meotyda”. No measures have been taken to reclaim the territory or to compensate for losses.
Special attention should be paid to the national nature park “Meotyda”, the territory of which is torn in half by the front line. Today, “Meotyda” is the only institution of the nature reserve fund that left the occupied territory. Staff of the park left the occupied Novoazovsk. The new office of the park was created in Urzuf in 2015 and is equipped with office equipment and furniture thanks to a charity campaign organized by us in November 2015. Only this year the park received state funds for the purchase of its own premises in the government-controlled Ukrainian territory.
Unfortunately, the national park suffers not only from military operations. The most valuable part of the park with the largest in Europe colonies of rare waterfowl was damaged as a result of “military exercises” in the self-proclaimed “DPR”. As a result, the colony of birds left the territory of the national park. The occupants turned this part of the national park into a center of illegal fishing.
On the other side of the front, on the terriotory controlled by the Ukrainian government, the national park suffers from the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Military units and even two military training grounds are located on its territory without any permission6. As reported earlier, the largest rock in the park, in its most remote from the front part, was completely smashed by rocket-propelled grenades. A year and a half long struggle for stopping military exercising in the national park did not give any result.
An extraordinary loss is the occupation of the central administration of the Ukrainian Steppe Nature Reserve (the Khomutiv Steppe branch), which stored archives, herbaria, documentation and library of the reserve, starting from 1926. Thanks to these materials, the reserve remained a unique territory of Ukraine, where environmental monitoring was continuously performed for 89 years. According to unofficial data, the occupants destroyed all these intellectual values.
One of the main issues regarding protected areas and war is calculation of damages. The methodology of this calculation has not been worked out by this time. In addition, in most cases it is not possible to conduct in-depth surveys and measurements in order to record the extent of the violation. For example, we estimated the value of the trees burned in the RLP “Donetsk Ridge» to be worth about 14 billion hryvnia. If, however, to count all the damaged territories of protected areas and, in particular, to take into account the destruction of the species included in the Red Data Book of Ukraine, then this amount can safely be increased by several times. Such a sum of losses will significantly exceed the cost of material losses caused by the war. Unfortunately, there are no conditions for filing a suit against the occupants so far. But the state is still not interested in this issue while the losses are multiplied.
Here it is important to recall that within the territory of the occupied Donetsk region there are 5 sites included in the Emerald Network of Europe, the creation of which is taking place in Ukraine to implement the Berne Convention. All of them were also harmed.
Unfortunately, the damage to the protected territories by the war and their occupation leads to the progression of negative processes. The presence of a large number of cesspools from shells7 has led not only to the physical destruction of vegetation, but also to significant chemical contamination. Such a change in the chemical parameters of soils was attractive for a number of invasive species, which became the reason for their widespread in the area of hostilities, including in many protected sites.
In part, the damage inflicted on the nature reserve fund can be offset by the creation of new protected areas. Indeed, in the last days of 2017 and in early 2018, 30 new territories were created in the Donetsk region with a total area of 4090 hectares (0.16% of Ukraine’s territory controlled by the government)8. Creation of new protected areas is planned in the coming months.
The plans to expand the fund of protected areas in the region includes the expansion of the national nature park “Meotyda”, creation of extremely valuable reserves “Snake Mountain” near Kramatorsk, “Sydorovsky” near the town of Slovyansk and a number of preserves in the Nikolsky district.
Particularly important is the proposal for the creation of new protected areas in the territories that are not controlled by the government. Loss of operating state bodies in this territory led to the introduction of legislation on military-civilian regional state administrations, whose powers also include the adoption of decisions on declaration of territories as protected areas of local importance and the approval of the creation of territories and objects of nature protection fund of national importance. So, now experts-biologists prepared materials for creation by Ukrainian authorities in uncontrolled territories of new protected objects, in particular – regional landscape park “Skelevy” and national nature park “Kalmiusky”, which should include the whole valley (canyon) of the river Kalmius on the area of about 42 thousand hectares.
As it turned out, the situation in the two areas affected by the war is really devastating.
Luhansk region is one of the regions of Ukraine, which contains the largest territories that are in a natural state. About half of its area is occupied by steppes, floodplains of rivers, chalky outcrops and forests. The oldest reserves here were created back in 1928 (“Striltsivski steppe”, “Provalsky steppe”). At the time of the occupation of the part of Lugansk region in 2014, 195 territories and objects of the nature reserve fund with the total area of about 85 thousand hectares were created in the region. 79 of them were in the occupied territory (20.3 thousand hectares)9, which makes up 23.8% of the area of the Luhansk region. Of these, 35 territories (73% of the total protected areas that are occupied) have been hit by war in one way or another. In particular, almost all of these objects were burned down during fires caused by military actions.
In the government-controlled territory, there are also war-affected protected areas. These are 35 sites with a total area of 10.4 thousand hectares. Almost all of them are located in the flood forests along the river Siversky Donets. Given that this area is predominantly non-demined and is along the line of demarcation, any remedy measures or prevention of further damage are hardly possible. A number of protected areas in the northern part of Luhansk region were damaged during the construction of the fortifications of the Armed Forces. The city of Stanytsa-Luhanska, which is also located in the gray zone, is where the administration of the Luhansk Nature Reserve is located. The central office of the reserve, located here, is closed to visits (including by its employees).
Luhansk region protected areas in the ATO zone also have the problem with uncontrolled coal mining in an open way. Some quarries, along with slagheaps stretch for dozens of kilometers. Such extraction is developing massively on Donetsk Ridge, in the south of Luhansk region. Almost all of the largest reserves in this region have been damaged: Illyriansky, Bilorichensky, Pershozvanivsky, Perevalsky and Miusinske slope.
Similarly to Donetsk region, all 9 territories of the Emerald Network in Luhansk region that are within the limits of the occupied territory have been damaged
EPL begins a new cycle of studies of the changes in the state of the nature reserve fund and Ukraine’s biodiversity in connection with military operations in eastern Ukraine. EPL experts are ready to cooperate with residents of the occupied territories, other experts, as well as journalists.
Contact details can be found below.
Oleksiy Vasyliuk, EPL environmental scientist
Kateryna Norenko, EPL environmental scientist
Alla Voytsikhovska, EPL environmental scientist
(032) 255 76 82
4 Природно-заповідний фонд Донецької області: бібліографічний покажчик літератури /Упор. Василюк О. В., Ластікова Л. М. / Серія: «Conservation Biology in Ukraine». – Вип. 8. – К:,LAT & K, 2018 – 216 с.
5 The calculations take into account the fact that the National Nature Park «Meotyda” only partially is in occupied lands (covering 9031,3 ha), and 11689,6531 ha are Ukraine’s control.
9 The calculations take into account the fact that the National Nature Park «Meotyda” only partially is in occupied lands (covering 9031,3 ha), and 11689,6531 ha are Ukraine’s control.