EDJNet investigation delves into Ukraine’s wildfires throughout the war

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The European Data Journalism Network’s transnational journalistic investigation of wildfires moves to Ukraine, which faces a surge in wildfires exacerbated by Russia’s war, impacting forests and agricultural lands. The conflict hampers firefighting efforts, posing long-term challenges and has global implications due to emissions exacerbating climate change.

Ukraine grapples with an alarming surge in wildfires, a direct consequence of Russia’s full-scale war. The ongoing conflict, absorbing vital resources and leaving behind unexploded mines, compounds the already challenging task of combating fires in the country. The latest article by Marilen Martin, published on OBC Transeuropa, examines the issue.

Despite Europe witnessing an increase in wildfires due to climate change, Ukraine’s recent escalation stems from the conflict and pre-existing issues. The nation, with 18.5% of its territory covered by forests, faces additional threats from burning agricultural residues, often illegally disposed of and spreading to nearby forests, primarily during spring and post-harvest periods. The lack of awareness and inadequate fire management practices further contribute to the heightened risk, as the article reports in the words of Sergiy Zibtsev, head of the Regional Eastern Europe Fire Monitoring Center, established in Kyiv in 2013 and sponsored by the National University of Life and Environmental Sciences of Ukraine, the Council of Europe and the GFMC.

The Ukrainian authorities, acknowledging the severity of the situation, have raised penalties for violating forest fire regulations. However, challenges persist, including insufficient training, outdated equipment, and a lack of inter-agency cooperation. 

Burned area in the Kyiv region (©Oleksandr Popenko/Shutterstock)

Amid the war, Ukraine experienced the largest area burned in its recent history in 2022, surpassing even the devastating fires of 2020. The conflict zone witnessed most of these fires, primarily caused by artillery and rocket launches unintentionally igniting forests. The redirection of resources and personnel for military use has hampered firefighting efforts, making the country more vulnerable to large-scale wildfires. Firefighters, with their knowledge of the territory, were among the first mobilized during the conflict, resulting in casualties among qualified forest firefighters.

The war-induced challenges extend to explosive remnants, including mines, posing a long-term threat to firefighting efforts. The presence of unexploded ordnance increases the risk of explosions, necessitating secure firefighting vehicles capable of withstanding potential blasts. Donations of modified tanks or armored vehicles have begun to address this issue. The safe clearance of affected areas, however, remains a complex and ongoing task.

To discover more, read the full article by Marilen Martin and learn about the Wildfires in Europe investigation here.


Author: Beatrice Bellavia (Euromontana).