An area with high levels of radiation called the Red Forest at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant An area with high levels of radiation called the Red Forest at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant  

Ukraine: the war is killing people and wounding the earth

As Pope Francis writes in Laudato sì “War always does grave harm to the environment and to the cultural riches of peoples.” It’s exactly what is happening in Ukraine as the war continues to wreak death and destruction.

By Svitlana Dukhovych

It seems that as we are forced to confront, on a daily basis, with the loss of so many lives and so much suffering, no room is left for other concerns, such as those for the environment. But it is in war, that more than ever, we understand the value of basics, including the need for a healthy place in which to live.

"War destroys flora and fauna, it destroys housing, threatens health and human life, the well-being of present and future generations," says the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church's Office for the Environment, Professor Volodymyr Sheremeta.

Poisoned air, water and soil

Speaking to Vatican News, he singles out some of the most serious damage to the environment that he says is caused by the chemical pollution of air, water and soil from bombing, by the use of military equipment, exhaust gases, fuels and lubricants being released into the environment, by the thousands of burned and decommissioned vehicles.


"The Russian military attacks both military infrastructure and civilian targets," Prof. Sheremeta points out noting that "In particular, oil depots and industrial facilities are hit, and this causes fires that, in turn, cause further pollution of the environment."

The head of the Environment Bureau added that 900 protected nature reserves, that’s about one third of all the reserves in the country have been affected since the beginning of the conflict. Even areas of the Emerald Network (an ecological network that helps protect biodiversity in Europe) are threatened with destruction.

Nuclear risk

The severity of the risks to the environment goes beyond Ukrainian territory. "The whole world remembers the serious socio-environmental consequences and the danger to millions of people due to radiation after the explosion of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in 1986," says Volodymyr Sheremeta, recalling that on the first day of this war, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant was occupied by the Russian military, which then abandoned it at the end of March.

Europe's largest nuclear power plant at Enerhodar (near Zaporizhia) was hit by Russian artillery and is still under their control. "Today in Ukraine there are four nuclear power plants with 15 active reactors, each of which, in this war, could become potential targets of the aggressor and pose a serious threat to the environment and to the lives of millions of people not only in Ukraine, but also in Europe and around the world," Sheremeta adds.


Another serious ecological problem that will remain for decades to come, according to the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church's Office for the Environment, are the landmines scattered across large areas of the country. Every day there are reports of people being killed or injured by mine explosions, especially farmers who go into the fields with machinery to till the earth.

"We can see first hand," Professor Sheremeta says, "how war destroys not only human lives, but also results in the pain and suffering of all Creation with the many long-term environmental consequences for human life itself and the common good.

Protecting Creation

Volodymyr Sheremeta also tells of how, despite the war, the Office for the Environment which is located in western Ukraine, has continued to carry out its mission: to protect and preserve God's creation, of which man himself is an integral part.

"Our service has always been very anthropocentric," he explains, "focused not so much on overcoming external environmental challenges or the symptoms of environmental diseases on the planet, but on the person who can become the main cause or even the victim of environmental problems.”

The Office for the Environment of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has a contact person in each eparchy: they are the priests who have the special task of praying, preaching and implementing initiatives for the care of Creation.

Among its initiatives is "Planting the Tree of Peace," which was launched eight years ago at the beginning of the war in eastern Ukraine, and has been revived where possible this year. The project includes traditional summer camps for children and youth who through prayer, educational games and multimedia experiences learn the basics of Christian teaching on caring for Creation. "This year,” Prof. Sheremeta concludes, “we plan to involve our guests in these summer camps as well: children and youth who have had to flee from the parts most affected by war."

24 May 2022, 16:47