Russia should pay for wartime environmental damage in Ukraine: report

By Thomson Reuters Feb 9, 2024 | 9:07 AM

By Gloria Dickie and Dan Peleschuk

KYIV (Reuters) – The damage inflicted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has included environmental costs such as contamination by land mines, and Kyiv should seek reparations from Moscow for this, a high-level working group said in a report published on Friday.

Land mines contaminate millions of hectares of Ukrainian soil, Russian troops allegedly disturbed radioactive dust near Chernobyl and the breach of the Kakhovka Dam last June, likely by Russia, flooded wide swathes of arable land and sensitive ecosystems.

The group, established last year by Ukraine’s presidential administration to investigate issues ranging from nuclear safety to soil pollution, unveiled 50 recommendations aimed at tracking damages from the nearly two-year-old invasion, holding Russia accountable and charting a green recovery.

“The president gave us a formidable task,” said co-chair Margot Wallstrom, a former Swedish foreign minister. “The world is lacking agreement on standards for measuring environmental damages [from war]”.

“Ukraine will be seen as a pioneer,” she said.

Other members of the 12-person group include European Union environment commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius, Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, Ireland’s former President Mary Robinson and Ukraine’s prosecutor general Andrii Kostin.

The recommendations, intended for both Ukraine and the international community, include establishing a high-level body to oversee the collection and preservation of evidence of environmental impacts and appointing an official to oversee climate-friendly reconstruction.

The group also recommended that Ukraine’s prosecutor general develop a strategy for prosecuting wartime environmental damage and consider ratifying the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court.

International human rights investigations should also consider environmental consequences as a human rights issue, the report said.

The group recommended that Ukraine speed up development of its Mine Action Strategy and create national guidance on the removal of toxic waste, such as asbestos-laden rubble and contaminated sediment from the Kakhovka Dam breach.

To pay for such work, the group “encouraged all avenues for reparation to be considered,” including using Russian state assets that have been frozen in overseas accounts.

“The EU is ready to support Ukraine to build back better with funding, with technical and legislative capacity,” said EU environment commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius.

(Reporting by Gloria Dickie in London and Dan Peleschuk in Kyiv; Editing by Frances Kerry)