Russia’s war on Ukraine is leaving a toxic trace in the soil of one of the world's most important producers and exporters of cereals and oilseeds. Some of the heaviest hit areas are those from the south, the country’s most fertile lands. Heavy metals, fuel and chemical residues from ammunition and missiles are slowly seeping into the soil of Ukraine, threatening agricultural productivity, wildlife, and the health of local communities and leaving a hazardous legacy for future generations. Physical soil pollution also occurs when heavy machinery compacts the soil, explosions create craters, or fires damage ecosystems.
Since the war in Ukraine began, over 600 chemical factories and waste storage facilities have been destroyed or damaged, causing major pollution. War has hindered waste management resulting in waste piling up in unregulated landfills which can result in leachate seeping into the soil and groundwater. Damage to underground infrastructure can cause raw sewage or untreated wastewater to be released. The industry may illegally dump its chemical waste.
As you know, the Chernobyl area is still contaminated by radioactivity since the 1986 nuclear accident. When radioactive soils are disturbed (by heavy traffic, troops digging trenches or artillery rounds), there's potential for that radioactivity to spread further.
Re-cultivating Ukraine's crops and the restoration of the soil will involve a massive effort. Clean-up efforts may involve using microbes to break down oil spills, or growing certain plants to extract toxic chemicals and heavy metals or stabilize the soil. This process is called „phytoremediation” and it uses plants to remove pollutants from the environment. Hyper-accumulator plants, such as Alyssum and Pteris ferns, can absorb and store large quantities of inorganic contaminants without any negative effect on their own growth or function. Miscanthus, or silver grass, could be used to extract heavy metals, petroleum hydrocarbons and other contaminants and also enhance the soil's microbial activity and speed up degradation of organic contaminants. Sunflower and industrial hemp are also good options. Phytoremediation is effective, but it takes a long time (more than 20 years) and multiple harvests to reach its goal.
When the conflict is over, Ukrainians want to investigate and punish environmental crimes and build back greener, both for the sake of the environment and for human health.
Source: BBC Future