Mainland Ukraine Suffers From Crimean Chemical Leak
14 September, 2018

As a result of the chemical emissions crisis at the Crimean Titan plant, Ukraine’s State Border Guard Service has restricted movement at checkpoints Chaplynka and Kalanchak in both directions. More than 60 border guards have sought medical assistance since the start of the crisis.

Movement in and out of Crimea is now practically closed. Exceptions are only allowed for those entering Ukraine’s Kherson region for medical help. But rumors are starting to spread that the checkpoints will reopen soon. Some people believe this.

Like these three women we met at the Kalanchak checkpoint on September 10. They read on the internet that the checkpoints have reopened and are hoping to get to Armyansk, Crimea. But the rumors turn out to be false.

The checkpoint closures have forced them to take a big detour to get into Crimea via the only open checkpoint Chonhar, on the other side of the Crimean strait.

The border services say that the closure of two checkpoints did not cause an increase in border-crossings at the third checkpoint, and have actually dropped by 20% overall.   

“Today, almost 7,000 citizens and 1,000 vehicles have crossed in both directions,” says Ivan Shevtsov, assistant to the Head of the Kherson State Border Guard Service.

We travel further along the administrative border to the residential areas affected by the emissions – the Chaplin and Kalanchak districts of Ukraine’s Kherson region. According to media reports, children have been taken away from several villages in this area. And, as the locals highlight, this was not part of an evacuation. The children left for health reasons. One such village is Hryhorivka in the Chaplin district. As we found out, not everyone has left.

Photo credit: Vyacheslav Husakov/UNIAN

“Everyone breathe through your nose,” a teacher tells kindergarteners during an outdoor PE lesson. The school here is also open, although half of the pupils are absent.

“The parents insisted that the educational institutions stay open because, as weekends have demonstrated, the children spend more time outside than they do in educational institutions, where there is control,” says Serhiy Klishchevsky, Head of the Hryhorivka local council. “Right now, we don’t see any reason to create more panic, the various forms of media don’t put out very accurate information.”

READ MORE: Dozens of Violations Recorded in Russia-Occupied Crimea, UN Reports

Some of Crimean Titan’s storage units are located on this united community’s territory. The company previously reimbursed the local budget for the pollution. And then this money would go towards a new ambulance, for example. But then after 2014, everything the Ukrainian branch of Crimean Titan pays to the local budget goes on rent for the storage sites. Titan only pays ecological collections and fines to the occupying government in Crimea.  

We have now moved closer to Titan. The village of Pershokostiantynivka is the closest source of pollution in the Chaplyn district. Today, on September 9, we see there is no longer smoke coming out of Titan. Pershokostiantynivka resident Serhiy Mykhalchenko says that he found out about the emissions in Armyansk in August because of the affect it was having on his health.

Photo credit: State Emergency Service of Ukraine

This year’s harvest was bountiful, but it’s not clear yet whether or not they can eat the produce left after the chemical emissions. Locals show us withered grapes, apples and pears, which developed strange spots overnight.

Further on, there’s another Kherson village which has suffered even more from the chemical emissions in northern Crimea. Preobrazhenka, formerly Chervoniy Chaban, which became a center for the urgent evacuation of children to the health resort in Skadovsk as a result of the ecological situation. There are only 12 school children left in the village, who now are distance learning. The other 158 were relocated.

“We had two commissions here – the Kherson Health Department, its Kalanchak department, basically from the town Kalanchak. And our nurses were examining the children too. There were complaints about dry throats, headaches. But the children were not hospitalized after detailed examination, because some of them turned out to just have allergic reactions, some fakers even,” says headmistress at one of the schools Olha Ilchenko.

There are also signs of acid precipitation in Preobrazhenka itself. Metal surfaces have rusted, the leaves on the trees appear as if they’ve been burned.

Photo credit: Vyacheslav Husakov/UNIAN

Locals say that there have always been emissions from Titan, even before occupation. But before there was a way of submitting complaints and the emissions have never been this intense.

Last night, 13 turkeys died suddenly at this farm. Most likely, because they ate grass which still had poisonous substances in it.

READ MORE: Unprecedented Water Crisis in Annexed Crimea

There are ads in all public spaces around here warning people about the dangers of grazing cattle and poultry in the open air. However, as the cows go out to pasture, we meet some people who say they’ve never heard about these warnings.

“I’ve never seen those. This is the second day I haven’t seen smoke coming out of Titan. And the air feels clean. Everything stabilized after the rain,” says Preobrazhenka resident Tetyana Sorokina. She just took her cow out for pasture. The grazing land is located in the part of the village that’s furthest from the plant. The locals believe that grazing their cows here is safer.

We go to the other side of the village, to the street located closer to Crimean Titan. Here, we hear about a few more cases of poultry dying. One woman shows us her dead chicken.

“Only 10 or 11 chickens left. We had 25,” she says.

Another family invites us over to their yard.

READ MORE: Cut Off: Occupied Crimea is Drying Out

“Look at this goat, she used to be white,” says villager Spartak Kazaryan while taking us to where his wife is milking a cow that has developed yellowish spots on its fur. “I boiled her milk and it’s sour,” the wife says.

To find out how many people are suffering from the leak in this region, we go to the Kalanchak district hospital. They say that they are regularly checking children and adults in the affected villages. But there haven’t been any cases of hospitalization because of harm caused by chemical elements. All these cases have occurred because of seasonal environmental pollution and chronic illnesses.

Photo credit: Anatoliy Krymskiy/RFE/RL

Next, we go to the Kherson region, but the regional administration officials are in Kyiv today for a press conference. The head of the Kherson Regional State Administration Andriy Gordeev stated that the ecological situation in Kherson is completely under control. The fruit and vegetables from the affected farms are edible if you wash them.

We were directed to the leadership of the regional health department. They said that the emissions really are bad for people’s health, but the effects are short-term. And they agree with Gordeev, you can eat the fruit from the affected villages if you wash it.

We offer Viktor Korolenko, the Head of the Kherson State Administration Health Department, some apples from the Preobrazhenka village. After some thinking and questioning why it is him who needs to eat the apple, he accepts our gift, asks his secretary to wash it and then eats a couple of slices.

“You should have brought some sausage, I wouldn’t have had lunch then,” he comments.

We tell him we saw some poultry but eating it probably wouldn’t be the smartest idea.

Photo credit: Anatoliy Krymskiy/RFE/RL

The Permanent Representative of the President of Ukraine in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea is confident that the evaporation from the dried out acid storage at the Crimean Titan plant has had a negative effect on the environment, but the situation’s sharp deterioration is a result of the technogenic accident at the Titan plant.

READ MORE: An Ecological Disaster Hits Crimea. We Take A Look At What Happened

The ecological disaster could have been avoided if, in 2014, the owner of the plant, Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash, was not given the green light from the Ukrainian Cabinet of Minister and the parliament in the form of the law on the so-called Free Economic Zone in Crimea. Thanks to this law, the plant has operated using raw materials from Ukraine for the past four years of occupation.

“Unfortunately, today we have this regrettable law on Crimea which allows these companies to operate both in occupied illegal jurisdictions and in Ukrainian jurisdictions,” says Borys Babin, Ukrainian president's Permanent Representative to the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. “We are now working on proposals for the president to abolish the relevant rule of law. We will take all possible measures to make it impossible for these companies to operate. Because this has now already crossed the red line.”

To stop operations, it would be enough to impose sanctions on Firtash’s company, which transports Ukrainian ilmenite to the occupied peninsula. And despite numerous journalistic investigations, appeals to the Ukrainian Ministry of Economic Development and directly to the Minister Stepan Kubiv himself, the scheme has continued to operate for several years. A new shipment of concentrated ilmenite was sent to Crimea via Odesa on September 7, at the height of the ecological disaster.   

/By Maria Romanenko