Ukraine war is killing wildlife

Bones of a dolphin washed up on a Ukraine beach

Multiple dead dolphins have been found washed up on Ukraine's shore

Ministry for Environmental Protection and Natural Resources
The Ukrainian environment minister told delegates at COP15 about the widespread damage to nature caused by Russia’s war.

We are afraid to even imagine the scale of the tragedy after the occupation of our territory and seas.

The number of civilians killed has reached nearly 7,000, while more than 11,000 have been injured, since Russia invaded Ukraine almost a year ago. An estimated 10,000 soldiers have been killed and 30,000 injured, while more than 5,000 are missing. But alongside these grim human statistics, Ukraine is also counting the toll on its wildlife.

For starters, at least 700 Black Sea dolphins are known to have died, victims of acoustic trauma caused by sonar equipment on Russian submarines, and mines. This figure is likely to be an underestimate, with the reality being closer to several thousand, according to environment minister Ruslan Strilets, in an interview at UN biodiversity talks COP15, held in Montreal last month.

“We are afraid to even imagine the scale of the tragedy after the occupation of our territory and seas. Today, Ukraine is the country most contaminated with land mines in the world. Every mine is the death of an animal,” he said. “Almost every week, Russia launches massive missile strikes – already more than 4,700. These destroy a healthy living environment, and not only for humans,” he said.


Ukraine is home to 74,000 species of animals, plants, and fungi – representing a third of Europe's biodiversity, despite Ukraine covering only six per cent of the continent. Around 600,000 hectares of Ukrainian forest has been damaged by the war, some 32 per cent of the country’s total, Strilets said. “A lot of territory has been burned, but we don’t know exactly how much because more than 30 per cent of the land is mined.”

Strilets’ mission at the UN biodiversity talks was to raise awareness of the damage being wrought by the conflict. “At COP15, the most important thing is to show the real picture for Ukrainian biodiversity - it’s very important to communicate every day with colleagues and countries that support Ukraine,” he said.

The government, aided by monitoring teams from the UN Environment Programme, has so far documented more than 2,200 cases of environmental damage caused by Russia, including pollution of soil, air and water by military equipment, toxic chemicals and emissions from fires.

“After occupation of some areas ends, we will record more cases. It’s a bad situation for all the world – biodiversity and pollution have no borders – other countries will feel it,” he said.


Russia’s war against Ukraine has already affected 20 per cent of protected areas, according to the government. Many internationally important wildlife sites are threatened with destruction, including 2.9 million hectares of the Emerald Network - part of Europe’s nature protection network - are at risk.

More than 600,000 hectares of wetland are under threat. These 16 ecosystems are designated as Ramsar sites for the international importance of their unique biodiversity. The Russians have occupied eight nature reserves and ten national parks.

We are afraid to even imagine the scale of the tragedy after the occupation of our territory and seas.

The Ukrainian army has liberated several protected areas from Russian occupation, including the Great and Small Kuchugury Archipelago, which covers ​​7,740 hectares. However, it is at risk due to its proximity to the front line. 

The Kamianska Sich National Park in the Kherson region was liberated in November after eight months of occupation by Russian forces. Over 90 species of rare animals call the grassland ecosystem home, but the land was mined by the Russians before they retreated, meaning the employees cannot access much of the park.

However, satellite data shows that 635 hectares containing rare plant species such as hairy feather grass and Ukrainian feather grass had been destroyed by fire.


Ukraine’s Ministry for Environmental Protection and Natural Resources sends a weekly update of the latest reports. It is recording the cost of pollution, which has so far been estimated at €37.8 billion in total, including €11.9 billion for soil pollution. The government wants Russia to pay compensation for the damages it has caused, including to the environment.

“Reparations are a challenge for all our government, not just the environment ministry. We are developing new methodologies to record all the cases. I’m sure everything is possible, a lot of countries support us,” Strilets said.

Whatever comes of this ambition, Strilets acknowledges that much damage to nature will be long-term and will need more than cash to restore. “Trees grow for decades, but they burn them down in one day. I don’t understand what money can repair these trees,” he said.

This Author

Catherine Early is a freelance environmental journalist and chief reporter for The Ecologist. She tweets at @Cat_Early76.

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