Ukraine Monitor

Date: 7 September 2018

Ecological disaster in the Crimea

Ukraine informed the United Nations about the ecological disaster in the Crimea. It also submitted a request for the establishment of an international committee which would measure the range and effects of the disaster. The Russian occupation authorities claim that the situation is under control and the Crimean citizens are safe. Over four thousand children were evacuated from Armyansk where the “Crimean Titan” factory polluting the environment is located.

On August 22, Armyansk, the city of regional significance in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea located on the Isthmus of Perekop connecting the mainland of Ukraine with the Crimean Peninsula, was covered with an unidentified substance which settled on roofs of the buildings, metal objects, trees and tomato and cucumber crops. Dead birds were lying on the lawns. People experienced a new smell and taste of air. Doctors were diagnosing dozens of patients with allergic conjunctivitis, pharyngitis and bronchitis which, according to the doctors, could quickly evolve into pneumonia.

Local authorities ordered additional examinations of air, water and groundwater. Afterward, they stated that there was no direct danger to life.

Sulphur compounds appeared in the atmosphere. Every day, people were removing a suffocating, slimy substance from their cars, yards, vegetables and fruit. Somewhere the substance “ate” all the zinc from the roof and cutlery in houses was rusting. This situation lasted for a week and residents of the city, calmed down by the authorities, were patiently waiting for the return to the normality. People were wondering what the reason for the danger was. They mainly blamed the “Crimean Titan” factory producing titanium dioxide, mineral fertilisers and sulphuric acid. They are used to the anti-ecological practices of the factory as most of the people work there.

After a week, when the substance was still “attacking” people and the city, the Ukrainian and Russian press started publishing articles about the ecological disaster and the lack of reaction from the Crimean authorities. And when the situation was compared to Chernobyl, the “Prime Minister” of the Crimea Sergey Aksyonov came to Armyansk and promised that the “Crimean Titan” would cease the production for two weeks “…despite the fact that there is no real danger to people’s lives, but there are great problems with the factory’s production as it requires large amounts of water”. “It is Ukraine’s fault” – Aksyonov said.

Until the annexation of the Crimea, the factory used the water from the Dnieper River which was being delivered to the Ukrainian Peninsula through a special channel. After the annexation of the Crimea, Ukraine decided to cease the supplies causing a great problem for the illegal authorities as well as the “Crimean Titan”. Without water, the production is inhibited. The factory drilled a well but due to the this year’s droughts it’s productivity is too low. The old technology of production entails the storage of waste, containing sulphur compounds, among others, in a large lake within the factory’s territory. This year, the lake is dry in many places and is emitting harmful chemicals to the atmosphere.

However, the factory was not closed. When the “PM” Aksyonov left the city, chiefs of the factory announced that it was not possible to cease the production overnight and if somebody wanted a break, he or she could write an application for an unpaid leave. Despite the fact that the company is in arrears with salaries and is poisoning the environment decided to stay at work. The owner of the “Crimean Titan” factory Dmytro Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch who supports the Kremlin and occupying authorities, promised that he would begin the modernisation of the factory the following year.

Two weeks after the beginning of the sulphur compounds emission, the authorities decided to evacuate children from the city and transport them to sanatoriums near the Black Sea for two weeks. In order not to spread panic, they did not call the operation an “evacuation”, but a “prolonged vacation”.

The authorities of Ukraine are monitoring air and water in the neighbouring Kherson Oblast. They also offered the occupying authorities accommodation for children. The proposal as well as the request of the President Poroshenko to the UN for the establishment of an international committee which would assess the ecological situation in Armyansk and in the Crimea remained unanswered.

All texts published by the Warsaw Institute Foundation may be disseminated on the condition that their origin is credited. Images may not be used without permission.

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