Experts are afraid of the environmental damage that may be caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

By Diana Kruzman, Grist

As Russian forces stepped up their assault on Ukrainian cities Thursday, escalating a long-simmering conflict into a full-scale invasion, observers warned that this most recent round of violence could cause further long-lasting devastation to the environment.

On Twitter, the United Nations Environment Programme pleaded for a ceasefire “to ensure the safety of all people and the environment that sustains life on the planet.” Others worried about the potential fallout from intense fighting around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, or raised concerns that artillery could hit one of Ukraine’s four operating nuclear power plants, releasing radioactive contamination that could spread throughout the region and last thousands of years.

Toxic pollution in Ukraine

In Ukraine’s east, where Russian forces have been supporting two breakaway regions in an eight-year war, researchers warned that Ukraine’s industrial infrastructure, electric grid or chemical plants could become a target.

“Eastern Ukraine is full of industrial sites like metallurgical plants, chemical factories, power stations and run-down mines,” Richard Pearshouse, the head of Crisis and the Environment at Amnesty International, told Grist in an email. “Fighting around these sites risks generating extreme toxic pollution, with severe health impacts worsening the already horrific humanitarian crisis for local people.”

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