The eco-ex­plo­sion in Don­bas

What the war is do­ing to the en­vi­ron­ment in what was once Ukraine’s most in­dus­tri­al­ized re­gion

The Ukrainian Week - - SOCIETY - Ye­lyza­veta Hon­charova,

Donetsk Oblast is tightly crammed with en­ter­prises that use dan­ger­ous chem­i­cal sub­stances in their pro­duc­tion cy­cles. If we add the fil­ter­ing and live­stock sta­tions lo­cated all along the line of con­tact that are con­stantly in the path of ar­tillery fire, this densely pop­u­lated re­gion is an ex­plo­sive cock­tail wait­ing to go off.

Just how ur­gent the sit­u­a­tion is, Pavlo Zhe­brivskiy, head of the Oblast Mil­i­tary-Civil­ian Ad­min­is­tra­tion (OVTA) states with­out am­bi­gu­ity: “There is a slew of en­ter­prises in Donetsk Oblast that con­tinue to op­er­ate on the line of con­tact, such as the Donetsk Fil­ter­ing Sta­tion the Car­bolic Acid plant out­side Torets, the Avdiyivka Cok­ing Plant, and farms be­long­ing to the Bakhmut Agri­cul­tural Union near No­voluhanske. Shelling in the vicin­ity of these op­er­a­tions con­sti­tutes a ma­jor en­vi­ron­men­tal threat be­cause lack of ac­cess to nor­mal main­te­nance or shelling could lead to an eco­log­i­cal dis­as­ter not only for the oblast but for the en­tire re­gion. For in­stance, if the sludge pond at the phe­nol plant or the dam at BAU’s sep­tic tanks were de­stroyed, the col­lapse would lead to haz­ardous wastes flow­ing into the Siver­skiy Donets basin, caus­ing dam­age not only to Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts but also to ad­ja­cent oblasts in Rus­sia as well as, even­tu­ally, the Azov and Black Sea basins.”

Un­for­tu­nately, the pres­ence of a mil­i­tary con­flict means that re­solv­ing many such is­sues de­pends en­tirely on those who started the war. Yevhen Didus, Gen­eral Man­ager of TOV NVO In­cor & Co. in Novhorodske is ex­tremely wor­ried about pos­si­bly fatal con­se­quences. Since the start of the con­flict in Don­bas, spe­cial­ists at the phe­nol plant have not been able to main­tain the sludge pond be­cause of con­stant shelling. Yet this is sup­posed to be done on a weekly ba­sis to pre­vent dam­ag­ing changes to the sur­faces of the dam and the leak­age of phe­nol into sur­face and ground waters.

“Since July 2014, when the city ef­fec­tively be­came a front­line town, we’ve lost the ca­pac­ity to prop­erly mon­i­tor the sludge pond be­cause it’s lo­cated in the no-man’s land near the vil­lage of Zal­izne – for­merly Arte­move,” says Didus. “ATO HQ have given us per­mis­sion and guar­an­tees that shelling will be stopped, but the other side doesn’t re­spond. They haven’t given us the green light, although we have sent re­quests sev­eral times a month.

“By some mir­a­cle, in the sum­mer of 2016 we were able to partly look into the sit­u­a­tion and clear away the south­ern and west­ern sides of the dam but this has to be done all the time. Oth­er­wise, the waters in these sludge ponds, which are at a height, will leak harm­ful sub­stances into the Zal­izna River, which flows into the Kazen­niy Torets, then the Kryviy Torets, and fi­nally into the Siver­skiy Donets, the only source of drink­ing water in the Don­bas,” Didus con­cludes.

Man­age­ment at the phe­nol plant notes that the leak­age of process waters that con­tain al­ka­line sub­stances and phe­nol into nat­u­ral wa­ter­ways threat­ens to bring dis­as­trous con­se­quences. One of phe­nol’s at­tributes is that it ab­sorbs oxy­gen, so that if this clar­i­fied water were to leak into on a mass scale, Donetsk rivers would die. Be­cause the pro­duc­tion cy­cle has been dis­rupted, the like­li­hood that the en­ter­prise will have to shut down is very high.

“This clar­i­fied water is part of the pro­duc­tion process,” Didus explains on. “If we be­come un­able to con­tain them, the plant will have to shut down. But we’ll still be left hop­ing that noth­ing goes go wrong with the sludge ponds and the 7 km of pip­ing. Dur­ing a de-min­ing op­er­a­tion, we al­ready found sev­eral un­ex­ploded shells. If some­thing like an Ura­gan hits us, even the seven-me­ter crest of the dam won’t save us... So we are in­sist­ing that the sludge ponds be in­cluded in the demil­i­ta­rized zone from which both armies are sup­posed to have re­treated.”

THE ARMED CON­FLICT HAS AL­READY DAM­AGED THE NAT­U­RAL BAL­ANCE OF THE AREA: THE FIRES AND SHELLING WITH HEAVY AR­TILLERY HAVE DE­STROYED HECTARES OF FEATHERGRASS IN STEPPE PRE­SERVES, AS WELL AS COUNT­LESS BIRDS AND SMALL PRAIRIE FAUNA

As the weather warms up, the ques­tion of utiliz­ing the wastes from BAU’s pig farms be­comes a prob­lem as well, be­cause it will poi­son not just the rivers of Bakhmut County, but also its ground waters. Res­i­dents of the vil­lage of Kodema felt its nox­ious im­pact in the sum­mer of 2016: their live­stock fell ill from the pol­luted water. Peo­ple were told to fil­ter and boil water from their wells. The am­mo­nia con­tent in the Kodemka River was 19 times above per­mis­si­ble norms. Even af­ter the wells were cleaned out, which a hu­man­i­tar­ian aid or­ga­ni­za­tion did, many of the water sources in the town con­tin­ued to reek.

“No, we still don’t use water from the river or the well be­cause it stinks of am­mo­nia,” com­plains Va­len­tyna, a res­i­dent of the vil­lage. “We buy bot­tled water for our­selves, but that costs too much for the live­stock. This win­ter, I melted snow for the live­stock and right now I’m col­lect­ing rain­wa­ter. Last sum­mer, our cow fell ill and we were sure she would die. So I’m al­ready scared.”

Yet this is noth­ing, be­cause the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact was al­most mar­ginal, say spe­cial­ists at the com­mer­cial farms. They were able to turn the slurry in the ponds into fer­til­izer on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, which they then used on their fields. But the sep­tic tank in the vil­lage of Dolomit­niy, which is cut in two by the front line, is im­pos­si­ble to main­tain right now be­cause it’s booby-trapped.

In or­der to prop­erly empty out the liq­uid that has al­ready ac­cu­mu­lated for a fairly long time, pro­fes­sion­als with heavy farm ma­chin­ery need to go into the stor­age

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