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From blooming resort to the radioactive desert

April 01, 2019 12:59 0 3388
Crimea is an integral part of Ukraine. It’s not just a political slogan. For 5 years of annexation, the peninsula gradually acquires its original appearance before the opening of the North-Crimean Canal – the arid steppe with salt marshes. The senseless extraction of natural resources from the depths caused great damage to Crimea’s fragile ecosystem. Experts agree that Crimea will not survive without the Dnipro river. In addition, in August 2018, the negligence of the occupation authorities led to an environmental disaster in Armyansk. Suffering the same fate is a risk for Kerch. If the destructive processes do not stop, soon the once fertile resort peninsula will become uninhabitable and won’t ever look itself.

However, after the annexation of Crimea in 2014, the supply of water from the Dnipro was discontinued. It largely jeopardized the peninsula’s agriculture, which brought considerable revenue to the budget and provided the population with jobs. Before the annexation, about 300 thousand hectares of arable land from 1 million 200 thousand hectares were irrigated. This is almost a third of landings. The most moisture-loving and profitable crops such as rice, soybeans, and corn have suffered. Residents of the north Crimea can not fully engage in agriculture; salt marshes appear on the surface of the earth. Trying to fix the situation, the occupying authorities are forced to drill wells for the extraction of artesian water, but its reserves are rapidly drying up, the underground water horizons are salting. In Pervomaisky, Razdolnensky, Sovetsky, Chornomorsky, Saksky, Kirovsky, Simferopol and Krasnoperekopsky districts, water production from wells is not possible at all, since even the deep layers are salinized. On February 26, during the Captured Crimea: 5 Years of Resistance 5th International Forum, Ukraine’s First Deputy Minister of Temporarily Occupied Territories, Yusuf Kurkchi, said that about 20% of Crimeans do not have access to drinking water to the extent necessary for human needs in the 21st century. 

 In 2018, residents of the peninsula massively started complaining in social media about the quality of water provided with a centralized supply – rusty, salty, in some cities, even with algae. 




Not only citizens but also large chemical enterprises (Krymsky Titan, Crimean Soda Plant, and Brom) are experiencing a high demand for fresh water. Environmentalists, on average, estimated that subject to the resumption of Dnipro water supply, to restore the water balance of the soil will take about 10-15 years. 

Driven to despair, the higher ranks of the occupying power offered to act radically – to seek help from the weather gods. Vladimir Bazhenov, General Director of the Vody Kryma state unitary enterprise, called upon God to pray: “Jews should go to synagogues, Muslims should go to mosques, Orthodox should go to churches. Before the overlap of the North Crimean Canal, we provided up to 70% of the drinking water supply at the expense of Dnipro water. Count that, we remain without those water for the fifth year and we live at the expense of our own resources. <...> At the Water Congress in Moscow, scientists said that they would be looking for underground, above-ground water, and set desalination plants. Let them do anything, as long as there is water. But this is not in my competence. In order to understand, we are given source water, and the state unitary enterprise (Vody Kryma – ed.)  makes it drinkable, and if there is source water, we’ll turn it into drinking water.” 

However, they seriously spoke about the water supply problems of the peninsula only at the end of 2018 in the context of the reconstruction of the North-Crimean Canal. During this text writing, it became known that the experts of the de facto Crimean branch of the RF State Expert Evaluation Department issued a positive conclusion on the results of a public technological and price audit of the investment project of the first stage of construction and reconstruction of the North-Crimean Canal facilities. The project implies the construction of a pumping station, a concrete and earth dams, pipelines and will supposedly remove infrastructure restrictions and improve the water supply to Armyansk, Krasnoperekopsky, Dzhankoy and Nizhnegorsky districts of Crimea. 463 million RUB were allocated for the implementation of the project in 2019. 

Ph: North-Crimean, 2018

However, a Russian independent expert, geological and mineralogical sciences scholar Yuri Medovar, in his commentary for Qiriminfo, criticized the ideas of the de facto Crimean authorities regarding the water supply of the peninsula: 

 “Now there are 3 proposals for supplying Crimea with water. The first is to build a dam and change the direction of the flow of rivers (from north to south), the channel of which passes near the canal. According to the ideas of the occupying authorities, the water should go along the channel of the North-Crimean Canal. But in this case, the entire north of the Crimea will remain without water. The second is to transfer water from water intakes (a system of wells for the extraction of fresh artesian water, – ed.). That’s a costly affair. Artesian water is potable, and letting it flow through the canal for technical use is insane. The third idea is to desalinate brackish groundwater. This is tremendous power consumption for the maintenance of desalination facilities.” 

 The expert also mentioned that poor desalination can lead to serious diseases of the cardiovascular system. 

The Emergency Situation Mode: Armyansk tragedy 

The lack of fresh water in late summer of 2018, led to a chemical catastrophe in the north of the annexed peninsula. At the Krymsky Titan plant, which products dioxide or titanium dioxide (TiO2), a release of toxic chemicals occurred. The fact is that the production wastes, after the treatment of the iron-titanium oxide concentrate with sulfuric acid, were dumped into a special acid storage facility (42 square kilometers), where they were diluted with a large volume of water. Under the influence of the sun, harmful substances evaporated almost imperceptibly. Before the occupation, water entered the acid storage tank from the Dnipro river through the North-Crimean Canal in the required amount, however, in 2014, Ukraine stopped supplying fresh water, which eventually led to the drying of the sump and the release of sulfur dioxide into the air with an excess of 5 permissible times. On August 24, 2018, residents of Armyansk felt a sharp deterioration in their health and the smell of sulfur. All metal objects were covered with rust and sticky brown mucus. On September 9, the de facto authorities announced a temporary shutdown of the plant’s operation until clarification of the circumstances and liquidation of consequences. More than 5,000 people were evacuated from Armyansk, half of them are children. In addition, the Kherson region nearby also suffered from emissions of chemicals. 37 border guards of the Ukrainian State Border Service who served on the Kalanchak check-point were poisoned by poisonous vapors. Later, children from school and pre-school age were evacuated from a dangerous region. 

Video: acid storage facility of the Krymsky Titan, Armyansk, 30.08.18 

The public emergency in the city was imposed only on September 14, after a second, more powerful release of chemicals. The occupying authorities did not dare to close the dangerous production. First of all, Krymsky Titan is a city-forming enterprise, with almost 5,000 people employed there. Secondly, it is the largest taxpayer. On October 22, the plant resumed work again. Environmentalists agree that it is impossible to significantly modernize hazardous production in such a short time. Probably, only emergency measures were taken to reduce the risk of chemical emissions. Later, the de facto head of Crimea, Sergey Aksyonov, said that the elimination of air pollution in Armyansk would cost the Krymsky Titan owners 700 million RUB. In particular, it was planned to drill several wells with a depth of 250 meters to supply the acid reservoir with water of 12 thousand cubic meters per day. However, there is another danger here. Artesian water is the reserve stock supply of the peninsula, which is not designed for industrial consumption. In this regard, theoretically, there is a risk of a repetition of the August scenario. Due to the excessive pumping of artesian water, the pressure of the aquifer is triggered, the pore pressure drops and the saltish water is pulled in, which can cause an unpredictable chemical reaction when interacting with chemicals in the acid storage tank. 

The plant itself has been a threat since the opening (1971) due to unacceptable for Crimean environment method of chemical waste disposal. In fact, the process of harmful production was adapted only to the conditions of operation within Ukraine, using a large amount of fresh water. Since 2000, the plant came under the control of Dmitry Firtash’s Group DF, but after the annexation of the peninsula, the oligarch changed the company's management structure, and in October 2014, Group DF transferred the Krymsky Titan to the Russian subsidiary enterprise of Titanovyie Investitsyi on a long-term lease. 

Ph: Кримський Бандеривець. Armyansk, 2018

In early March, residents of the north Crimea once again felt the smell of chemicals. The de facto Crimean Branch on Hydrometeorology confirmed in it’s weekly report, that from March 4 to March 11, 2019, in Krasnoperekopsk, the concentration of hydrogen chloride exceeded the norm by 4.4 times, and in Armyansk the level of hydrogen fluoride in air had exceeded the norm by 1.8 times. The occupying authorities give no viable explanations on air pollution. 


Kerch may repeat the toxic fate of Armyansk. The city is on the verge of an ecological disaster due to the sand development from the dam of the Nizhne-Churbashsky tailing dump, which is located between the village of Goroyevske and the Zaliv shipyard. The tailing dump is a hydraulic structure, which was actively used in 1968–1994 for dumping and storage of nuclear waste of ore-dressing of Kamysh-Burunsky iron-ore combine. A dam was built in Soviet times, in order to avoid the leakage of harmful substances into the environment. It subsequently became the main object of interest for the OOO Gen Invest and OOO Magistral, which, on the basis of an agreement with the AO Kamysh-Burunsky Iron Ore Plant (the bankrupt enterprise), have been extracting toxic sand from the dam since 2016. Destruction of a hydro facility threatens with a technological catastrophe. According to the results of a quantitative chemical analysis of dam sand samples, the antimony content was exceeded by 3 times, phosphorus by 341, iron by 370. Environmentalists pay special attention to the concentration of chromium and arsenic – by 1420 and 500 times, respectively. The area of ​​the sand extraction site is 64,288 square meters (length – 860 m, width – 75 m). On May 5, 2017, the de facto Kerch City Court issued a resolution prohibiting the seizure of sand in the area adjacent to the bypass channel of the Nizhne-Churbash tailing dump. However, illegal work is carried on up to now. The de facto authorities of Crimea keep downplaying this situation. 

Ph: Ministry of Temporary Occupied Territories and Internally Displaced Persons of Ukraine

Crimean environmentalists agree, that in case of a dam break, the peninsula faces a tragedy comparable to the scale of the Chornobyl nuclear power plant accident. In this case, poisonous waste in a lethal dose will fall into the Black Sea waters, picked up by the stream to spread over hundreds of kilometers, which will lead to the death of flora and fauna. It is also worth mentioning, that in case of a dam break and a subsequent ecological catastrophe, we can talk about the international crime commission. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, whose jurisdiction Ukraine has recognized, does not contain a separate statute on environmental crimes. However, an environmental disaster triggered by the actions of individuals, resulting in, for example, the extermination or forcible transfer of civilians, could qualify as a crime against humanity or a war crime if it involves armed conflict or occupation. Even as we speak, precipitation pushes poisons through a partially destroyed hydraulic structure, which pollutes the soil of adjacent residential areas and the Black Sea waters. Every day, the dirt from washing the contaminated sand is drained into the canal, which is connected to the city beach. In addition, during the transportation the contaminated sand pours onto the road, polluting Kerch’s air with arsenic. Residents of the Priozerne village, which is located in close proximity to the tailing dump, are already complaining about the exacerbation of chronic diseases of the respiratory system and eyes, allergies and relapses on the skin. Locals anonymously said that the occupying authorities used the contaminated sand in the construction of the Kerch Bridge, social institutions and playgrounds. 

Video: sand development from the dam of the Nizhne-Churbashsky tailing dump

On February 2, 2019, the Prosecutor’s Office of the ARC command proceedings on the grounds of a criminal offense under Part 2 of Art. 240 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (violation of the rules for the protection or use of mineral resources). 

Of course, there are much more environmental issues in Crimea, and all of them are they are interdependent. It is important to bear in mind, that when Crimea returns to the jurisdiction of Ukraine, comprehensive programs should be developed to eliminate these environmental consequences. For 5 years, the occupation authorities focused on financial gain, an arms race, demonstrations of imperial ambitions, a militarization of the peninsula, suppression of disloyal population, but they failed to conquer nature. In the very near future, the occupation authorities’ negligence can lead to fatal consequences, and, quite possibly, we won’t recognize Crimea in a few years. 

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