As one of the ecological “antileaders” of Europe, Ukraine has a sad situation: dozens of large industrial companies work with outdated equipment lacking environmental safety controls. Managers at some of these companies say that they have already started to invest money for modernization, but the latest statistics show that things are getting worse.
Most equipment was bought in the middle of the previous century and has caused much harm to the environment. The ecological situation in Ukraine is one of the worst in the world—it holds the 102nd place among 132 countries in the Environmental Performance Index 2012, prepared by Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy.
In Ukraine, smokestacks fill the skyline, billowing toxic gases; industrial companies are among the biggest polluters in the country. According to state statistics, in 2011 industrial production emitted 4374.64 thousand metric tons of pollutants into the air, which comprises 63.6 per cent of total volume. Besides, the number for 2011 is 5.9 percent higher than that of 2010—in other words, the situation became worse.
Representative of this industry growth, Ukrainian large metal works, Azovstal, is one of ten worst polluters in the country:
Footage taken in Mariupol city of Azovstal metal works, one of top ten Ukrainian polluters. (Initiative Ecological group Give Oxygen, kisloroda.net.ua)
Air pollution can have devastating effects on public health: nearly 2 million people worldwide die each year due to living in areas with heavy air pollution, according to the World Health Organization.
Svitlana Berzina, the head of Ukrainian ecological organization Live Planet, says that the situation will change only if manufacturers move to clean technologies.
“All of the top ten companies that most harshly pollute air were built during the 1930s to 1950s, or even earlier. In those years we had intense industrialization [a USSR measure], without consideration for the environment or public health,” she said in a comment to The Epoch Times via email. The intense industrialization in Ukraine dates back to the USSR years, when communist leaders focused on production first, public health last.
In August 2012, the Ecology and Natural Resources Ministry of Ukraine announced their list of the country’s top ten polluters.
Three of the top ten companies told The Epoch Times that in the last few years they have been actively investing in modernization of equipment. The other seven industrial companies did not respond by press time.
For example, large mining and steel company ArcelorMittal Kryviy Rih, one of the top ten situated in Southern Ukraine, in a corporate responsibility report for 2011 states that it has reduced 138 thousand metric tons of CO2 emissions thanks to improvements to technological processes.
Mykola Kryvonos, the head of environmental protection department of Alchevsk Iron & Steel Works (another factory from the top ten list, and situated in Eastern Ukraine), also says that his company is carrying out technical modernization. From 2006 to 2010 they completely removed the open-hearth furnace production that caused much air pollution.
General Director of big steelmaking company of Zaporizhstal, Rostislav Shurma, whose company also made the top ten, said that in 2012 they completed many modernization projects. He notes that thanks to $125 million in investments in modern equipment, they will be able to reduce emissions into the air by around 300 thousand tons of CO2 a year. Shurma understands that his company has put an ecological burden on the region, but according to him, the company fulfills its obligations.
Nevertheless, Ukrainians shouldn’t wait until the state or companies polluting take initiative to reduce emissions. One needs to start from oneself, says ecologist Berzina.
“We must understand that quality life doesn’t mean more money, bigger apartments, luxury cars or other luxuries. Instead it is environment and health. We should popularize ecological mentality and healthy life-style,” she says.
The most effective way to fight pollution, she says, is public resistance.
She raises the example from 2012 of a plant run by metal works Azovstal that was closed for modernization. The company that owns this plant, Metinvest, announced at the end of last December that reconstruction will take 6—8 years, and as a result harmful emissions will lowered by 2.5 times. The cost of reconstruction will be more than $300 million. It happened after citizens of Mariupol, where the plant is situated, held protests against the harm this plant was doing to the environment.
“Metinvest made this decision not from one’s own initiative and not by order of the Prosecutor General Office—tens of thousands of people took to the streets to protest [against pollution], and that was the reason,” Berzina says.
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