No peace is ever bad; no war is ever good. While the wars play havoc with the lives and properties on a massive scale, there are hidden costs attached to war. One of the most ravaging impacts of conflict between two warring countries is the colossal damage done to the environment. This ugly face is largely masked under the heaps of human misery that follow the war. The Russian-Ukraine war is by no means an exception. On February 24, with the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Europe’s first major war in decades was actually set in motion. The world has painfully witnessed deadly explosions have reverberated across Ukraine’s capital and, eventually, other highly populated cities. In its first month, the war in Ukraine saw over 5 million refugees flee to other countries and another 7 million become internally displaced within Ukrainian borders. Between February 24 and May 3, 3,193 civilians were killed and another 3,353 were injured. Beyond efforts to end the war focusing on saving lives and preventing further direct humanitarian devastation, another silent victim of the country’s crushing new reality could continue harming Ukrainian communities long after the last Russian troops have left: the natural habitat and the environment in its all shades and manifestations. With every missile explosion, raging fire, and building collapse, high concentrations of pollutants are being released to permeate the country’s water supply, soil, and atmosphere. Apart from the environmental consequences of harmful heavy metals, fine particulate matter, and toxic gas, these pollutants can also raise the risk of cancers, developmental disorders, and cardiovascular disease in people. Eco action’s head of environmental crimes Yevhenia Zasyadko in his stated, “This war can cause many deaths in the future due to polluted water. We record soil pollution and mining of our fields. Food security and our fertile soils are in great danger caused by the actions of the occupiers.” Will Ukraine be able to live up to the dictates of these demanding challenges that stare it in the face? He who lives will see! By all means, the most pernicious case study so far and an infamous example of war’s obnoxious impacts on the environment occurred during the Vietnam War, when U.S. forces covered 4.5 million acres of rainforest and wetlands with “tactical” herbicides, including one known as Agent Orange. These highly toxic dioxins, persistent organic pollutants that break down in the natural environment very slowly, continue to contaminate soil, water, aquatic species and the local food supply in Vietnam even today, almost 50 years later. Many credible research studies on past conflicts infer that wars can lead to significant losses in biodiversity and impede conservation activities to cause irreversible environmental damage. According to a 2018 study, armed conflict is directly correlated with declines in wildlife across even protected parts of Africa. In Mozambique, where civil war from 1977 to 1992 destroyed 90% of Gorongosa National Park’s wild elephant population as both sides poached ivory to finance the war, the species actually evolved to lose their tusks as it gave them a higher chance of survival. In addition to their cultural significance, African elephants play a crucial role in maintaining plant populations and balancing natural ecosystems within their range. Environmental stressors caused by war, such as land degradation, pollution, floods and lack of access to clean water, can exacerbate tensions and lead to further conflict and competition over precious resources. In fact, studies show that conflicts over water within countries and between countries are already increasing worldwide. Likewise, wars typically result in food shortages and economic insecurity, often driving both civilians and armed forces to rely on natural resources, sensitive habitats and vulnerable wildlife. We all know that Ukraine is a huge agricultural country with the potential to feed a large portion of the world. Of the country’s total land area of 60 million hectares, about 42 million are classified as agricultural land. The missiles, bombs, and tanks that Russia brought onto Ukrainian soil are all filled with waste, delivering polluting contaminants to land normally used for agricultural purposes. These pollutants don’t just affect crop production now but will hinder future generations once it comes time to rebuild. Apart from what Russia is bringing into Ukraine, it’s also necessary to consider the chemical plants, factory storage facilities, oil deposits, coal mines, and gas lines that were already there. These industrial sites can release formidable levels of pollution if they’re damaged. Similarly, the fires formed from missile strikes and other destructive activities have consequences that include air contamination and water runoff contamination. When Russia seized Chernobyl, the abandoned site of the worst nuclear disaster in world history, scientists and civilians alike waited with bated breath as soldiers dug trenches in the highly radioactive soil, flew jets over restricted airspace, and took workers, hostage at gunpoint. Damage to these nuclear waste storage facilities could produce sizable radioactive contamination, locally and far beyond the site’s borders. It is also pertinent to highlight that Russia’s invasion also marked the first time in history that a nation’s war strategy included occupying a nuclear plant, painting a grim picture of a future where every nuclear plant could be used as a pre-installed nuclear time bomb. It is crystal clear that Ukraine is known to be the world’s biggest producer of sunflower oil, historically generating one-third of the world’s supply and accounting for almost half of global exports. Sunflower oil has long been used in a wide range of food products as a replacement for palm oil, a major driver of deforestation in places like the Amazon rainforest. As the war causes exports to tank, some desperate companies are considering going back to palm oil to maintain production. The invasion has also presented timber supply chain challenges for construction, putting additional pressure on the illegal logging industry elsewhere. The Forest Stewardship Council, which provides the world’s leading certification process for sustainably sourced wood products, has also suspended all trading certificates in Russia. According to Ukraine’s Ministry of Energy and Environment Protection, over 1,500 Russian missiles had been launched at the country as of mid-April. Many of its cities have been destroyed and others have been severely damaged. Once the Ukrainian people begin to restore infrastructure post-war, most of the construction materials will be sourced from the country itself. A potential increase in wood, stone, and other resource extraction could take an even further toll on the already-damaged natural environment. It’s an open secret that war uses up a tremendous amount of energy. Moving troops and heavy equipment, planes, and missiles, all take up oil and fuel that emit greenhouse gasses as they burn. Already, the war in Ukraine has risen global oil prices to historic levels, which in turn drives up costs for consumer products like food, fertilizer, and electronics. As countries around the world reduce dependency on Russian imports, international collaborations between climate scientists are also feeling the tension. Russia controls a substantial portion of the Arctic coastline and ocean territory, where some of the world’s most crucial research on carbon emissions also takes place. Keeping the above in view and at this critical juncture, Ukraine has a massive challenge ahead to minimize the collateral damage to the health and safety of its environmental landscape. In the short run, Ukraine should focus on eliminating and reducing immediate risks to human health and the environment. Preparing and carrying out a comprehensive environmental clean-up plan, especially related to the collection, safe disposal, and treatment of the vast amount of military, and other waste will help to significantly reduce immediate health risks. There will also be a crying need to repair and rebuild the more efficient environmental infrastructure that ensures the supply of safe drinking water, adequate sanitation, and appropriate collection, storage, and treatment of waste. The existing and potential impacts on human health should guide the set of actions needed to effectively address these challenges. Likewise, in the longer term, the post-war economic development process should be used for a fundamental transformation of Ukraine towards a green and net-zero economy. This green transition will ensure greater economic efficiency, stronger competitiveness of Ukraine in the European and global markets, and thus ensure the much-needed well-being of its people. Will Ukraine be able to live up to the dictates of these demanding challenges that stare it in the face? He who lives will see! The writer is a civil servant by profession, a writer by choice and a motivational speaker by passion!