How Ukrainian animals ended up on the Walk of Fame in Hollywood
Destruction of the animal world of Ukraine
Oleksandr Todorchuk, the founder of the UAnimals NGO, reported that as of November 2022, there was already information about the unthinkable number of animals killed by Russia. “The occupiers are purposefully shelling nature parks, zoos, and shelters and have already killed more than 10,000,000 animals during the war,” the animal rights activist noted. Also, due to Russian armed aggression, rare species have been harmed, especially those that live in steppe zones where active hostilities took place.
UAnimals activists held another action as part of the international campaign #StopEcocideUkraine to draw attention to the animals that may disappear from the territory of Ukraine forever. They temporarily placed stars of animals: steppe eagle, brown bear, Eurasian lynx, black stork, and speckled barn owl on the Walk of Fame in Hollywood, next to the stars of Tom Cruise, Frank Sinatra, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and other celebrities.
“We decided to award those we don’t want to lose and are ready to fight for,” animal defenders wrote on the UAnimals Facebook page on April 6 and posted photos from the Walk of Fame.
Fires seen from space
Unfortunately, it is not necessary to use symbolic stars to see the crimes of the Russian Federation directed against the Ukrainian nature. It is sufficient to analyze real images published in various sources. For example, fires due to fighting in the south of Ukraine were visible from space. UAnimals reported it and published a photo from the UK charity Conflict and Environment Observatory (CEOBS), which tracks and disseminates data on the environmental impact of military conflicts. The organization confirmed that the Russian Federation does not consider the environmental impact of military actions.
The authors of the article “Wildlife on the Brink: How the War Destroys Unique Natural Objects of Kherson Region” described this impact in detail. Let’s consider only the data on fires presented in this article.
Black Sea Biosphere Reserve
The Black Sea Biosphere Reserve, protected by UNESCO, is located in south Ukraine. The reserve covers parts of the Kherson and Mykolaiv regions (about 86% of its area is located in the waters of the Black Sea).
The Russian army’s actions affected over 10 thousand birds accustomed to wintering there. About 110 species of birds usually nest in reserve, including such rare species as the sandpiper magpie, purple sandpiper, Bucco Brisson, 1760, black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus), red-breasted merganser, Pallas’s gull (Larus ichthyaetus), white-tale sea eagle, bustards, pink pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus), and others. As UAnimals wrote in an April 8th Facebook post, “All of them are in danger of extinction because their home is being destroyed. The Black Sea Biosphere Reserve is on the brink of a humanitarian crisis due to the Russian occupation.”
As noted by animal advocates, the reserve suffers most of all from fires: the Russian military deliberately set fire to forests and reeds in search of partisans or AFU special units. As a result, birds are forced to look for other places to live and nest. This has catastrophic consequences because birds are accustomed to using one of the three migration routes that pass through the reserve. The birds have to change their migration routes and lose their accustomed resting locations, which leads to their exhaustion. More and more birds may come under fire. The article’s authors noted that this significantly changes the whole ecosystem, which may take decades to recover.
The Kinburn Spit Regional Landscape Park
The flora and fauna of the Kinburn Spit also suffer from the criminal actions of the Russian Federation. The movement of wheeled vehicles and fires that have engulfed the artificial forests of Kinburn Park since the beginning of May 2022 has caused irreparable damage to the reserve. The Russian occupation and mined areas made it impossible to extinguish the fire.
The Kinburn Spit is strategically located, so the Russian army occupied it from the first days of the full-scale invasion and shelled Ukrainian towns from there, killing civilians. Ruslan Hrechanyk, Deputy Minister of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources of Ukraine, noted, “The aggressor does not take into account the environmental status of the territories and uses them as a springboard for its military operations.”
The Russian army’s actions jeopardized wild bird nesting sites and Europe’s largest orchid field. It is still difficult to assess the full extent of the damage caused. As a result of fires, whole sections of forest ecosystems were lost, rare animal species were destroyed, and unique sand flora was damaged. Due to Russian shelling, fires constantly broke out on the Spit. From March to the end of June 2022, the fire wiped out on Kinburn Peninsula 1,640 hectares of plantations within the Svyatoslav White Coast National Nature Park and 200 hectares within the Kinburn Spit Regional Landscape Park. Another fire was recorded in the fall of 2022, in early October. According to ecologists’ calculations, the Russian Federation has destroyed at least one-fifth of the spit’s forests. However, there is no guarantee that this is the final figure.
According to Oleh Derkach, head of the Mykolaiv branch of the National Ecological Center of Ukraine, the Russian military looted firefighting equipment and took away the inventory. The occupiers did not permit locals to put out the fire, even though it threatened not only nature but also the villages.
The pine forest was fenced off with strips of plowed land to contain the fires. “Probably only birds could have escaped the fires, but we don’t know if they will be able to return to the ashes and how they will endure the migration,” explained Oleksii Vasyliuk, chairman and co-founder of the Ukrainian Nature Conservation Group. “Big animals may have escaped the flames, but all the small [creatures] and insects living on the ground and in the trees were killed.”
Looted Askania Nova
The occupation authorities’ actions in Russian-controlled territories were directed against all living things. Thus, the Askania Nova nature reserve, where the Russians appointed their own director, was also threatened. Experts feared that it could be about the abduction of animals from the reserve and the destruction of the whole cultural heritage site.
As previously noted by Oleksii Vasyliuk, a mass movement of military machinery was recorded in the virgin Askania steppe. The expert explained that this is unacceptable in the reserve area, which is carefully protected from any human influence. In Vasilyuk’s opinion, what was happening on the territory of the reserve seized by the Russians (even before the appointment of a Russian-controlled director) was the worst time during all its existence. According to him, fire-fighting equipment has been removed from the reserve, and there will be no means to extinguish a fire in the virgin steppe, would it happen. And the very stay on the mined territory (or in the war zone) will threaten people’s lives. Moreover, according to journalists, the reserve has actually been looted, as a result of which it is impossible to carry out scientific and research work. “This is a disaster for conservation work, as it is a continuous process that cannot be interrupted for a while. Everything done for decades of scientific work has been completely destroyed,” read the piece of February 6, 2023.
The workers of the reserve lack the fuel needed to make rounds of the territory, and people are not even getting their salaries.
Meanwhile, the Geneva Conventions prohibit resorting to methods or means of warfare which are intended, or may be expected, to cause widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment.
“Care shall be taken in warfare to protect the natural environment against widespread, long-term and severe damage,” states Article 55.1 of the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol 1). “Attacks against the natural environment by way of reprisals are prohibited.” (Article 55.2 of the Protocol I).
Frans Timmermans, executive vice president of the European Commission, pointed out that Russia must pay reparations for ecocide. “Ukraine must gather evidence of Russia’s crimes against nature and the environment to force Russia to pay reparations for this ecocide,” Timmermans was quoted by Ukrinform, citing BNR.
You have to make them pay reparations, which is only possible if you have properly recorded facts and evidence,” stressed Timmermans. “After World War II, a new topic emerged in the legal system: genocide. Crimes against humanity. And I think that at this stage of our development we should also pay attention to actions leading to ecocide. To crimes that directly affect the survival of our species. We need to give them more attention and take much more seriously than in the past.”
Ruslan Strelets, Minister of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources, stated in an interview with the Canadian TV channel CBC that as a result of the Russian war, “some of Ukraine’s ecosystems are lost forever.”
Losses of almost UAH two trillion
In late March 2023, Dmytro Zaruba, the first Deputy Chief of the State Environmental Inspectorate of Ukraine, spoke about the ecological consequences of the Russian Federation’s armed attack on Ukraine.
He noted that the environmental problems caused by the Russian aggression are aggravated virtually daily. In particular, experts record significant harmful emissions into the atmosphere due to the destruction of industrial facilities and infrastructure and the burning of forests. Moreover, the armed conflict has also led to the pollution of water resources, in particular rivers and lakes. The pollution is due to the ingress of poisonous substances in the water sources and the destruction of underground facilities and water supply systems.
Also, due to the Russian invasion and consequent fighting, a large amount of hazardous waste accumulates on the territory of Ukraine, which will threaten both human health and the environment in the future.
The State Environmental Inspectorate reminded us that, to date, the total damage amounts to more than UAH 1.9 trillion. The State Environmental Inspectorate constantly assesses the damage, so this amount is not final. As Dmytro Zaruba noted, the Russian invasion creates long-term environmental problems, so it will be necessary to take comprehensive measures and involve international partners to solve them.