Staunton, September 3 – Vitold Fokin, deputy head of the Ukrainian delegation to the trilateral contact group on the Donbass, says water in the Donbass mines threatens to become “an even greater ecological catastrophe than Chernobyl was” (apostrophe.ua/news/society/2020-08-30/bedstvie-bolshee-chem-chernobyl-fokin-rasskazal-o-katastrofe-s-shahtami-na-donbasse/207966).
Under the occupation, Apostrophe journalist Sveta Gudkova explains, coal mining has largely ceased, the mines are not being pumped out, and water in them, contaminated with heavy metals and in one case radioactivity is seeping into the water supplies of a million people (apostrophe.ua/article/society/2020-09-03/chernobyil-na-donbasse-kak-okkupantyi-udarili-po-ekologii-na-vostoke-ukrainyi/34742).
Before the occupation, Ukrainians mined 83 million tons of coal, 75 percent of which was in the Donbass. There were approximately 150 mines in that region, 96 of which are now behind the Russian occupation line. Production fell rapidly, and in 2019, less than ten million tons of coal were mined. Mines have been closed, and their “total destruction” has continued.
That trend both reflected and exacerbated the economic decline of the Russian occupied areas, but it also carried with it another threat: Because the mines were not used, they were not pumped out, water seeped in, picked up various minerals and chemicals, and these then seeped back into the ground water and then rivers there.
Since 2014, the occupiers have provided no data on this, Gudkova continues; but the level of contamination of water has risen. The worst case involves the Yunkon Mine where in 1979, the Soviets conducted an experimental nuclear explosion before shutting it down. Until 2018, the occupiers worked to ensure that water from it did not seep out.
But since then, apparently reflecting economic stringencies, the occupiers have ended the pumping out of water in the mine; and as a result, radioactive materials are now passing into the groundwater and rivers. The International Human Rights Community says it has confirmed that development.
By their actions or more properly by their failure to act responsibly, the Russian occupiers are allowing dangerous materials to flow into the water supplies from which many people not only in the occupied territories but in adjoining ones still controlled by Ukrainian forces. The risks to the health of these populations are enormous.