As Putin’s invasion of Ukraine rages on, causing massive loss of human life and incalculable destruction, we are still only beginning to see the ecological impact that is sure to be felt for years to come. We know Putin doesn’t respect borders and when it comes to the water, air, and earth we all share, the lines separating one country from another are just as futile. Runoff, air pollution, toxic waste, potential nuclear fallout: these hazards won’t stop at the borders of Ukraine. What can neighbouring countries expect to see as far as the environmental impact on their own land?
To give some perspective: according to Ukraine’s Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources, about 30% of the country’s protected natural areas have been bombed. In the first 4 months of the invasion alone, satellite imaging picked up some 37,000 fires burning across Ukraine, affecting a quarter-million acres of forests. In the eastern region of Donbas, largely under Russian control, invasive maneuvers have resulted in abandoned coal mines leaking polluted mine water into the surrounding ecosystems, while wrecked sewage infrastructure and oil pipelines relentlessly gush into the rivers and wetlands.
How does this affect countries like Moldova?
Moldova is already being treated as collateral damage in Putin’s invasion. As recently as today, Russian missiles sent into Ukraine have resulted in massive power outages across Moldova, which relies heavily on energy and food imports from both Ukraine and Russia. These imports have stopped or decreased dramatically, leaving Moldovans in the dark as they head into winter with less resources.
And yet, in the early days of the invasion, it was Moldovans who took in more Ukrainian refugees per capita than any other nation. One in ten of those refugees stayed in the country. What we will likely see is the war refugee population becoming compounded with a cohort of climate change refugees in Moldova as Ukraine burns.
While Moldova may be spared a large portion of Ukraine’s air pollution due to earth’s prevailing winds moving west to east, water sources and agriculture will be most affected. Because of the two countries sharing a watershed, the Dniester water basin, all of the toxins flowing from Ukraine into Moldova are polluting one of their main sources of drinking water.
The economic impact on Moldova’s agribusiness is troubling as well; According to the International Fund for Agricultural Development, Moldova receives 90% of its seeds, fuel, and fertiliser from Ukraine and Russia. Now, their Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industry (MAFI) estimates that without that fertiliser, Moldova’s production of wheat, corn and barley will decrease by 30%, leaving more than 33,000 small-and-medium-scale farmers “virtually empty-handed.”
In a globalised world already struggling with the climate crisis, nothing is an isolated incident.
As Putin’s insatiable effort to take Ukraine continues, we can’t afford to act as if each and every one of us isn’t affected by the damage Moscow is causing on the environment. Today, it’s Moldova, tomorrow it’s the rest of Europe, after that, the globe. The fight against climate change is a fight without borders and Russia must be held accountable for the damage they are causing to our shared home.