Why ecological catastrophe could happen in Donbas?

Author : Konrad Schuller

Source : Frankfurter Allgemeine

In general, according to Swiss experts, hazardous substances are located in Donbas in 4 thousand places on both sides of the front. Particularly unpredictable may be the consequences of the projectile falling into one of the storage tanks of liquid chlorine. And, according to preliminary data, in this case 80 thousand people could be affected
11:45, 16 November 2017

Read original article at Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

112 Agency

Anyone who travels from the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk by the national highway N-20 to the north, will enter the industrial zone outside the city - industrial zone full of factory pipes and pipelines, which were the hallmark of this city when there were no Russian armed detachments here at all. Or rather, he would have got into this industrial zone, if it was this strip of land for three and a half years from the beginning of the Russian intervention that would not have become the Verdun of this war. It is impossible now to drive through this industrial zone. What was a road became a front. The airport on the left looks like a surrealistic composition of twisted metal ribs, empty spaces between blocks on the right and left resemble the place of the First World War.

The N-20 road was considered the key to Donetsk. The one who holds it can enter the capital of the separatists or get to free Ukrainian territory. So both sides for several years did everything to prevent the enemy from taking possession of this road. Therefore, over time, this industrial zone became the centerpiece of this old-fashioned artillery war with its ten thousand dead. The Ukrainian army in the west, armed Russian detachments in the east - no one is inferior. Both sides are trying, if not to get rid of the enemy, at least to make him bleed. Every night, the thunder of guns is heard.

Now, along with artillery battles, there is a threat of the return of the First World War another nightmare - gas. 102 years after Germany on the western front first successfully attacked the enemy with chlorine gas under the Ypres in Flanders, now alarm signal "chlorine" is heard in Donbas.

This is not just a single warning. In an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeiné Zeitung the deputy head of the OSCE observer mission in Ukraine, Alexander Hug pointed on this danger. And on Wednesday, his warnings were joined by the coordinator of the United Nations Committee on Humanitarian Affairs in Ukraine, Neal Walker. The map clearly shows what we are talking about. It is here, on the N-20 highway, on the bloodiest part of the front, between the trenches and fields with funnels, there are two large stores of liquid chlorine. They belong to one filter station for drinking water, and a pumping station that supply several hundred thousand people on both sides of the front (usually with the help of chlorine it disinfects the drinking water). In both stores there are up to 300 tons of chlorine. In this case, one warehouse is located directly between the opposing positions, in the field of view of both sides. Workers of stations under the fear of death pass the front line every day. The second warehouse, which is near the pumping station, is located a little further, on the territory of the separatists.

Fragments of shells are constantly falling on these stations, and since battles have intensified lately, it is especially dangerous. On Sunday, the OSCE reported four cases of projectiles falling onto the building of the filtering station, including a building where chlorine is stored. If the shells got into the chlorine tanks, says Hug, it would have "the worst consequences" for the population.

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If the projectiles hit the building in a couple of meters below, the scenario might have been similar to what happened in 1915 in Flanders. Chlorine causes choking, bloody coughing, swelling of the lungs. Being heavier than air, chlorine spreads through the earth, penetrates into trenches as well as into the protective cellars of the civilian population. Neal Walker of the UN committee believes that even one of the several 900-kilogram containers in the filter station contains enough chlorine to kill all people in a 200-meter radius if the projectile hits the target. And since the nearby pump station stores not only 900-kilogram tanks, but also about 250 tons of liquid chlorine, then the consequences of one hit of a projectile are even difficult to imagine. Experts from the Swiss organization "Center for Humanitarian Dialogue," who after detailed study of the territory in both the occupied and free parts of Ukraine in May 2017 submitted a report on environmental risks, fear that if the projectile hits a container with chlorine, up to 80 thousand people will suffer.

But that is not the end. From this report it follows that the densely populated coal region of Donbas, which during Stalin's time was perhaps the most significant project of Soviet industrialization, today has become simultaneously one of the regions of Europe where environmental risks are particularly high, because coal and steel left their imprint - with mountains -dumps and smoking pipes - not only in the eastern Ukrainian landscape. What is under the ground is also affected. At a depth of hundreds of meters, there is a whole network of mines and galleries linked together. Many of them do not work today – ones are cut off the supply routes, others were destroyed by the war.

Many careers are filled with water, because the pumps do not work, and where it happened, the problem becomes more and more serious. Galleries fail, making damage to all possible lines and buildings. But first of all there is a danger that all sorts of poisons will get into the ground waters. So, for example, in the industrial city of Horlivka, with a population of 350,000 in some quarries, there is a waste from local chemical enterprises. If the quarries are filled with water, the poison, according to the Swiss experts, can get into the ground waters, as well as to the objects of agriculture. The same goes for the other mine nearby, where mercury waste is stored.

In general, according to Swiss experts, hazardous substances are located in the Donbas in 4 thousand places on both sides of the front. It is possible to avoid a catastrophe only in case of great luck. The report says that the disaster "can occur at any time, and it will be impossible to keep under control all the consequences." Since the water facilities of this region are interconnected - up to Russia - along rivers, aqueducts and galleries, the causing of "catastrophic damage to the health and life of people" also threatens the territories in the unoccupied Ukraine and in the Russian border regions.

However, soon another legacy of the Soviet Union could become a time bomb. Out of 4 thousand dangerous objects established by Swiss experts, 17 represent a "radiation hazard". The most dangerous mine can be the Yunkom mine in Yenakiyeve, the city of steel and coal in the separatist Donetsk People's Republic, which is proud not only of its fellow countryman, Soviet cosmonaut Georgy Beregov, but also of former president Viktor Yanukovych who fled to Russia. Here in 1979 the Soviet Union tested the atomic bomb deep underground.

Since then, this area has been closed. But if Donbas will have to continue to plunge into chaos, if in the surrounding galleries associated with the Yunkom, pumps stop working, and the mines are filled with water, then the contaminated land can get into the water cycle. This war, which, with its positional battles and the threat of gas poisoning, still resembles a wicked caricature of World War I, can change its character. If the radiation from an exploded atomic bomb will be noticed from the Yunkom mine, then this First World in miniature will result in another war: the atomic age will come.

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