On September 13, a press briefing was held at the Ministry of Temporarily Occupied Territories and IDPs (MinTOT), which revealed certain details regarding the ecological disaster in the city of Armyansk.
At the end of August 2018, in the city of Armyansk, environmental protection mechanisms at the Krymskyi Tytan plant were destroyed due to military exercises conducted by Russian soldiers in the north of Crimea, which caused a release of harmful chemicals into the air resulting in deterioration of health of the population of the occupied peninsula and irrevocable damage to the environment.
According to the MinTOT Minister Vadym Chernysh, this incident consisted of two key events: the night between 23 and 24 August and 4 September. First reports appeared at night on social network profiles of Armyansk residents. Titanium dioxide was produced at this plant via sulfate method using sulfuric acid. “When we got satellite images of the plant’s roofs, we noticed that on September 9 some repairs were going on there,” says Vadym Chernysh. “The occupying authorities distributed leaflets, allegedly from the Ministry of Ecology, where chloride titanium was mentioned, even though the plant uses another technology.” According to the Minister, such misinformation is disseminated by the Russian side on purpose, to confuse the situation. The Ukrainian side, on the other hand, is constantly taking air samples for analysis at the border with Crimea, which provides open and accurate information about the state of air pollution. According to Vadym Chernysh, the pollution was caused by violation of the technological process, but it is difficult to find out the details since the Russian side refuses to provide information.
Vadym Chernysh stressed that Armyansk uses water from the Schodnytskyi water intake, not from the Dnieper River channel, which is currently closed. “If the occupying power of Crimea needs water for the plant and won’t be able to get it, the production will have to be stopped,” says Vadym Chernysh. “However, the occupants don’t care about people’s living conditions.”
Yevhen Komarovskyi, official of Crimea’s Prosecutor’s Office, reported that a criminal proceeding had been opened under Article 241 of Ukraine’s Criminal Code “Pollution of Atmospheric Air”. There are three versions of the offense:
– mishandling of plant equipment;
– damage to waste tanks due to military exercises conducted Russia’s armed forces;
– intentional release for the purpose of launching a large-scale information campaign directed against Ukraine, to destabilize the south of Kherson Oblast.
Yevhen Komarovskyi called on all Ukrainian citizens affected by the ecological disaster to turn to Crimean law enforcement agencies, specifically the Prosecutor’s Office in Kyiv and Kherson and the National Police departments in Odesa and Kherson.
Roman Rodyna, Deputy Director of the Public Health Center at Ukraine’s Ministry of Healthcare, said that the main pollutant was sulfur dioxide (SO2), which, coming in contact with water vapor in the air, forms sulfuric acid. Excess concentration of this substance adversely affects human health: it irritates the mucous membrane of the eyes and upper respiratory tract. In case of high concentrations, it can even cause breathing difficulties. This can be prevented by wearing cotton gauze masks moistened with a sodium solution, which neutralizes sulfuric acid.
According to MaksymTymochko, lawyer and expert of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, people have environmental rights, which includes the right to receive information about the state of the environment. “We are convinced that the occupying authorities are not going to inform residents of the occupied territory that they are entitled to compensation,” he said. “I’m talking about pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages. Pecuniary damages could include expenses on evacuation or treatment due to deterioration of health. To get this compensation, it is possible to apply not just to domestic courts, but to international courts as well, such as the European Court of Human Rights.”
According to Maksym Tymochko, to receive compensation, it is necessary to record the fact of medical treatment, and to keep medical documents, prescriptions and receipts from the purchase of medicines. This is not just about medical problems caused by the disaster, it also concerns chronic diseases aggravated by it. Compensation can also be obtained through court for harvest lost as a result of the incident. “Whether there existed malicious intent or not, environmental damage must be compensated,” said Maksym Tymochko.
Vitaliy Nabukhotnyi, lawyer and expert of the Regional Center for Human Rights, recalled that international humanitarian law imposes a number of responsibilities on the Russian Federation, particularly regarding the environment in the occupied territories. The occupying power’s actions violate Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights regarding the right to respect for private life, as well as Article 10 on freedom of expression, which, among other things, protects the right to information. This right will be violated if people start asking the occupying authorities for information and receive no good answer.
Text by Oleh Shinkarenko (UHHRU)
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