Small Wars Journal

The Environment in Warfare-Related Policy Making: The case in Ukraine

Sun, 10/25/2020 - 9:57pm

The Environment in Warfare-Related Policy Making: 

The case in Ukraine

By Richard Marcantonio and Kristina Hook


            In the chaotic reality of wars and armed conflicts, environmental issues are often downgraded in long lists of policy priorities.  We suggest that this reality is partially driven by the simmering and subterraneous aspect of environmental risks; the long-term possibility of environmental degradation may not seize the attention of political decision-makers as intuitively as ongoing violence spikes or political turmoil.  However, we also view the policy demotion of environmental risks in warzones as partially predicated on a present lack of empirically-based frameworks that rapidly-but-accurately organize the information saturation of complex crises.  Taking into account the need for transferability across various geographic areas, political contexts, and case studies, we have developed a four-part assessment tool to analyze various risks by distinguishing between the environment 1) as a trigger, 2) as degraded, 3) as neglected, or 4) as a mechanism of control.  While based on established scholarly findings, we introduce this tool as fulfilling an unmet, foundational policy need. To demonstrate how this tool can rapidly contextualize environmental risks, we also share previously unpublished data on Ukraine’s war-driven ongoing environmental crisis.  With 11,000 people killed, 2 million internally displaced persons, and 4.4 million people in dire need of emergency humanitarian assistance (UN OCHA, 2018; UNIAN, 2018b), we conclude that environmental risks pose just as urgent a threat as the ongoing direct violence.  Particularly worrying, our framework’s results illustrate how warfare in highly industrialized areas may leave harmful ecological and human security legacies for decades after active warfare concludes.



In the chaotic reality of wars and armed conflicts, environmental issues are often downgraded in long lists of policy priorities.  We suggest that this reality is partially driven by the simmering and subterraneous aspect of environmental risks.  After all, the long-term possibility of environmental degradation may not seize the attention of political decision-makers, grab newspaper headlines, or prompt public clamor as intuitively as ongoing violence or political turmoil.  In tandem with this reality, the policy demotion of environmental risks in warzones is partially predicated on a present lack of empirically grounded frameworks that rapidly-but-accurately organize the information saturation of complex environmental crises. 

Here we directly address this research and policy gap.  Considering the need for transferability across various geographic areas and political contexts, we develop a four-part assessment tool to analyze various risks by distinguishing between a variety of environmental risks, including their potential short-term and long-term consequences and their contributions to extending violence and human suffering. Our four-part assessment tool is intended to guide scholars and practitioners in rapidly analyzing environmental risks by distinguishing between 1) the environment as a trigger, 2) the environment as degraded, 3) the environment as neglected, and 4) the environment as a mechanism of control. A crucial characteristic of successful assessments is the recognition of an interplay of factors that concurrently shape and interact with each other, thereby altering, accelerating, and/or impeding the disaster’s future dynamics (Verdeja, 2012). Military strategist Carl von Clausewitz (1832) defined warfare as the extension of politics by other means; in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, warfare includes ecological modes of power exertion, critically highlighting the intersection of warfare, politics, and the environment.

            The origin of the ongoing Ukrainian conflict is directly linked to the 2013-2014 Euromaidan Revolution, which began as student protests against President Viktor Yanukovych’s failure to sign a promised European trade agreement that would have ushered in closer economic and political ties with Western countries  (Marples & Mills, 2015). After largely peaceful protests were met with state-initiated force, both the scale of Ukrainian protests and the level of violence escalated dramatically. This social movement was largely led by civil society from across Ukraine, independent from formal opposition political parties (McDonald & Bonner, 2016). The violence peaked in Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv (alternatively spelled, Kiev) in late February 2014 with more than 1,000 citizens shot by state forces and approximately 130 killed (Marples and Mills, 2015). These killings precipitated the flight of President Yanukovych to Russia, the seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula by the Russian Federation days later, and the resultant outbreak of armed conflict in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region with separatists backed by Russian political, military, and technological support (Dunn and Bobick, 2014; Marten, 2019). At least 11,000 persons are confirmed dead, and nearly two million internally displaced persons (IDPs) have been registered by Ukrainian authorities (UNIAN, 2018b), with informal estimates in both categories running significantly higher. In addition to globally televised events like the shooting down of a Malaysian Airlines passenger jet (Flight MH-17) by a Russian-sourced missile (Gov of Netherlands, 2018), other less-reported features of the conflict include one the highest landmine-related causality rates in the world (Shekinskaya, 2018) and severe environmental risks (Gumenyuk & Nazarov, 2018).  At present, an estimated 4.4 million persons are estimated by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) as in dire need of emergency humanitarian assistance in Ukraine (UN OCHA 2018).  As recent events in the Sea of Azov, in which Russian flag-bearing ships fired on and seized three Ukrainian naval vessels and twenty-four sailors (Reuters, 2018), this internationally recognized “State to State conflict” (U.S. Department of State, 2018) still has the potential to destabilize and drive international security dynamics.  With current attention questioning whether Russian naval positioning is seeking to “throttle” Ukraine’s economy (Higgins, 2018), we illustrate how environmental actions—and inaction—are being strategically used as a stranglehold of control and a weapon of warfare.


Environmental Issues and War: Synthesis of Existing Literature

Varying interpretations of ecologically-connected conflict and violence have developed in current cannons of research. These interpretations span a wide spectrum from corporation-driven violence for extractive purposes (Homer-Dixon, 1994; Welch, 1995) to environmental impacts as implicitly violent (Nixon, 2011; Shrader-Frechette, 2002) to climatic changes as drivers of conflict (Devlin and Hendrix, 2014; Hendrix and Glaser, 2007; Hsiang et al., 2013, 2011; Hsiang and Burke, 2014). It is no surprise then that the relationship between the environment and warfare—two constituent components of human history and the story of human development (Fagan, 2010; Fuentes, 2013; Potts, 2012)—has been theorized and tracked in myriad ways. The relationship between the environment and warfare is a two-way street: the environment affects warfare just as warfare concurrently affects the environment, and the people inhabiting the conflicted space are caught in the tension in-between (Fuentes, 2013). In synthesizing the literature on this bidirectional linkage, four themes arise as both persistent and useful modes of analysis for understanding the current Ukrainian warfare-environment nexus and beyond.


#1:  The Environment as Trigger

One of the most common—if not the most recurring—ways that the natural environment and warfare are theorized as linked together is the environment as a trigger for conflict. In this construct, the environment is a physical artifact that directly influences social relationships and triggers violent conflict when there is either too much or too little. In this way, the linkage between environment and warfare has two primary types: competition over abundant resources (Bannon and Collier, 2003; Böhmelt et al., 2014; Buhaug and Gates, 2002; Collier and Hoeffler, 2005; Gemenne et al., 2014; Humphreys, 2005; Watts, 2004) and competition over scarce resources (Burrows and Kinney, 2016; Devlin and Hendrix, 2014; Hendrix and Glaser, 2007; Homer-Dixon, 1991, 1994; Hsiang and Burke, 2014; Miguel et al., 2004; Raleigh and Urdal, 2007).

While aspects of these linkages are still actively debated (Buhaug, 2015; O’Loughlin et al., 2014; Salehyan, 2014, 2008), there is a consensus that environmental factors exacerbate or extend socially produced tensions rather than being the single causal mechanism of violent conflict, acting as a ‘threat multiplier’ (Barnett, 2018).


#2:  The Environment as Degraded

Just as environmental factors can shape the path to war, warfare can shape the environment, creating a reciprocal positive feedback loop where both negatively impact and increase each other (Biswas, 2000; Lawrence et al., 2015; Levy and Sidel, 2007; Machlis and Hanson, 2011; Weir, 2015). The degradation of the environment from warfare and its constituent activities comes in many forms: air pollution from the building of vehicles and the follow-on emissions from those vehicles as they maneuver as part of the conduct of war (Lewtas, 2007; Masiol et al., 2016); trash and surface waste that collects and remains uncollected thus promoting disease and the contamination of water resources (Epstein, 2015); soil and water pollution from the scattering of toxic unexploded ordnance from deposited munitions (Frost et al., 2017); and/or particulates and other hazardous air pollutants emitted from destroyed and smoldering buildings (Pacheco-Torgal et al., 2012; Zeig-Owens et al., 2011). The list is long and encompasses every stage of warfare from the violence escalation  to post-war rebuilding (Machlis and Hanson, 2011).


#3:  The Environment as Neglected

The environment is not only degraded by the activities that occur and increase during violent conflicts. It is also degraded through neglect. The activities of warfare prevent local and national environmental managers to conduct their regulatory activities due to the inability to move about freely and safely in their area of responsibility. Environmental neglect can be passive or active; it can be as simple as trash collection services halting, thus allowing the build-up and festering of surface waste, the promotion of contaminants, and the spread of related diseases like cholera and typhoid (Diseases, 2017; Lacey, 1995; Ozaras et al., 2016; Simpson, 1915)

#4:  The Environment as Control

In lieu of the protection and provision of environmental services, militants or other groups that wield coercive power are often able to seize control of the environment in order to control the population living in a contested area (Hough, 2014; King, 2015). By controlling the production and flow of essential environmental resources, the controller can force people to bend to their newly imposed laws and regulations, whatever form that may take (Dreazen, 2014). Militant groups have even intentionally destroyed resources and environmental service infrastructure to increase the reliance on—and value of—the resource that they control (Hough, 2014), a phenomena that has increased in frequency in the last few decades.


Environmental Issues and War:  The Case of Ukraine

The conflicted eastern Ukrainian region includes the Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts (“provinces”).  Together these two provinces are often referred to as the “Donbas,” a nearly two hundred-year-old term that hints at the environmental issues now facing Ukraine.  The word Donbas is a shortened version of Donetsky Bassein (literally, “Donets coal basin”) and is believed to have been first introduced by the mining engineer Yevgraf Kovalevskyi in the 1820s to signify the rich coal deposits found in the Siverskyi Donets river basin (Maiorova, 2017).  This coal basin constitutes a geographic expanse of 500 kilometers, stretching from the Dnipro to Don rivers in modern-day Ukraine and Russia, respectively.  Estimates put the total area of the Donbas coal basin at 60 thousand km2; as a reference point, the Ruhr coal basin in Germany is thirteen times smaller (Maiorova 2017).  The geological Donbas region also includes major population centers across four Ukrainian provinces (the Luhansk, Donetsk, Kharkiv, and Dnipropetrovsk Oblast), as well as one Russian province (the Rostov Oblast).

Thus, the Donbas area has been and is a highly industrialized area, resulting in a dense sprawl of active industrial production facilities and the remnants of inactive sites and facilities. Unlike many conflicts currently underway around the world and in recent history, this conflict is happening in and around the industrial complexes of the Donbas, exposing these sites to destruction from the fighting, significantly increasing potential environmental risks.  The Donbas region is home to one of the world’s largest coal mining regions which, prior to the current conflict, was one of the main sources of energy for Ukraine (Privalov et al., 2004). In fact, 90 percent of Ukrainian coal comes from the Donetsk oblast (WEC, 2016). The production of coal and other materials in the Donbas is critical to the functioning of the Ukrainian state, but it requires active environmental management to mitigate and/or reduce the effects of such processes on the local environment.

The Donbas area has 900 active and inactive mines (MENR, 2018). This includes both surface and subsurface mining. In total, 15 billion metric tons of coal and 9 billion metric tons of rock have been extracted from the grounds of the Donbas, and that 9 billion cubic meters of subsurface galleries have been constructed (Yakovlev and Chumachenko, 2017).  Surface mines produce extensive environmental harm as they are exposed to erosive and transporting elements such as rainfall and wind (Johnston et al., 2008). Addtionally, the subsurface mines in the Donbas area are both deep—averaging 720m with a range of 220m to 1380m deep—and close to surface waters, resulting in them being in proximity to and exposed to groundwater flows that can percolate into mine shafts, requiring active pumping to mitigate the associated risks. The subsurface of the Donbas region is rich in methane gas content, making mining in this area significantly more risky and increasing the environmental impacts of subsurface mining with an estimated release of up to 6 billion m3/year of methane (Yakovlev, 2018). Between 1991-2000, 3,459 miners died in subsurface explosions due to the ignition of methane gases, demonstrating the danger and pervasiveness of methane throughout the Donbas (Yakovlev, 2018).

The long history of mining and industrial production in the Donbas region has resulted in the accumulation of environmentally risky sites that contain pollutants ranging from heavy metal toxins to industrial chemical pollution (MENR, 2018). Prior to the current conflict, there were 4,240 sites designated as hazardous by the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources (MENR) (Yakovlev and Chumachenko, 2017). The sites received this designation for exceeding standards established and monitored by the MENR.  Specifically, 2,160 sites are deemed potentially explosive due to methane content, 24 are flagged due to radiation hazards, 909 are hydro-dynamically hazardous, and 34 are biohazardous (Yakovlev and Chumachenko, 2017). Prior to the current armed conflict, each of these sites were actively monitored and managed by the MENR to mitigate the environmental and health risks they pose (MENR, 2018).


#1:  The Environment as Trigger in Ukraine

The current armed conflict in the Donbas is not directly about fighting for resource access or monopolies, as other ideological, identity-based, and political motivations are primarily responsible for initiating and expanding the conflict (Black and Johns, 2016; Kalb, 2015; Katchanovski, 2016). However, the resources of the Donbas, particularly the coal deposits, are critical both to the Ukrainian state and the Russian-backed separatists operating in the non-government controlled areas (NGCA). In 2017, the Ukrainian government issued an order to embargo the purchase of coal extracted in the Donbas as part of the formerly named Anti-Terroristic Operations (ATO), now Operation of United Forces strategy, despite the fact that the coal is much needed for the energy needs of the Ukrainian state (Ponomarenko, 2018; UNIAN, 2018b, 2018a). The decision was made to explore alternative energy sources rather than potentially fund Russian-backed separatist operations in the Donbas. In response to this, increased evidence has accumulated of Donbas coal being exported abroad, primarily through Russia, providing funding and support to rebel forces (Varfolomeyev, 2017). In this way, the resources of the Donbas are not the direct causal mechanism of the conflict, as research in other contexts has shown the potential for resources to do (Bannon and Collier, 2003; Collier and Hoeffler, 2005; Homer-Dixon, 1991). However, it is integral to the conflict as they provide revenue for the militant forces and regaining access to them is critical to the Ukrainian state.


#2:  The Environment as Degraded in Ukraine

The activities of warfare can have direct negative effects on the environment, and the Donbas is a case in point. One way in which the conflict is degrading the Donbas is the proliferation of unexploded ordinance (UXO) and the emplacement of mines (OSCE, 2018a). UXO occurs when an explosive device fails to detonate or when it only partially detonates, depositing toxic explosive materials in and around the targeted area. UXO remnants can leach toxic chemicals into the surrounding soil and waters they have been dispersed in, as well as prevent the effective management of an area where they have been dispersed for fear of detonating the remaining material (MENR, 2018). Similarly, mines degrade over time, resulting in the deposition of toxic chemicals into the soil and also significantly restricting the active management an area (Berhe, 2006). Landmines and UXO significantly reduce the ability for an area to be used and managed, while concurrently increasing the toxicity of the surrounding soil and percolating into underlying groundwater resources and nearby surface waters (Lawrence et al., 2015). In the short term, the environmental risk is direct harm to human lives and health, demonstrated by the fact that civilian casualty rates from mines and UXO are about 50 people per month (OSCE, 2018b), some of the highest rates currently occurring in the world (Shekinskaya 2018).  The long-term concern is the effect on soils, groundwater and surface water, and land use, all of which have been degraded in the Donbas (MENR, 2018).

The conflict is also directly degrading environmental quality through the destruction of infrastructure, occurring as a function of artillery and other munitions bombardment (MENR, 2018). First, this destruction produces hazardous air pollution emissions, causing short-term and long term health outcomes ranging from early death to cognitive suppression to Alzheimer’s (Burnett et al., 2018; Calderón-Garcidueñas et al., 2018; Gehring et al., 2015). For example, an electrical power plant was destroyed by artillery in Luhansk resulting in local residents experiencing itchy and watery eyes, respiratory distress, headaches, and nausea from the smoldering facility (Yakovlev and Chumachenko, 2017). Second, the destruction of infrastructure also degrades the environment by disabling trash removal and waste water treatment (MENR, 2018). Household and industrial waste water in the Donbas is now going untreated back into surface waters because many of the municipal water systems have either been destroyed by artillery fire, their pipes have been damaged from conflict-related activities, or the pumping and treatment stations are no longer being operated (MENR, 2018). This, combined with the suspension of most household trash services and the management of trash disposal sites, has led to significantly increased rates of surface water coliphage contamination at multiple sites, including the Donetsk River (MENR, 2018). These sites demonstrate levels of fecal coliform ten times the standard set by the Ukrainian Sanitary Norms and Rules Act (SNRA) of 2010, whereas prior to the current conflict these same test sites demonstrated levels within the accepted standards (Gov of Ukraine, 2010; Yakovlev and Chumachenko, 2017).

Not all of the types of degradation ongoing in the Donbas are accounted for in this short overview, but what is presented shows the myriad ways in which the Ukrainian conflict can and has degraded a local area and wreaked havoc on residents already being disturbed and harmed by the ongoing fighting. Importantly, these examples show how there are both short term and long term impacts from environmental degradation, where long term impacts can even persist long after the fighting is over (Machlis and Hanson, 2011).  With the Ukrainian conflict now in its fifth year, these long-term effects will stretch for decades.


#3:  The Environment as Neglected in Ukraine

The fighting in the Donbas has made it near impossible for MENR, along with other government ministries, to effectively do their job in the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts (MENR, 2018). One of the primary roles of MENR prior to the conflict was to monitor, regulate, and manage the environmental impacts of the 900+ active and inactive mines throughout the Donbas. The Donbas mines pose significant risk to the environment, particularly to soil and water resources, but also to air quality due to the high methane and radon content. Prior to the conflict, MENR oversaw the pumping of 2.2 billion liters/day of groundwater to prevent subsurface mine shafts from becoming flooded (Yakovlev, 2018). Of the 900+ mines in the Donbas, approximately 200 are at risk of flooding due to their proximity to substantial groundwater aquifers and flows (Yakovlev and Chumachenko, 2017). A flooded mine shaft can solubilize and introduce pollutants—ranging from minerals that increase the salinity and hardness of the water to heavy metal toxins such as mercury, lead, and arsenic that toxify the water–at significantly increased rates into surrounding groundwater and surface water resources. In the Donbas, this concern is amplified as nuclear detonations were used in several mines to facilitate coal extraction, such as at the Kilvazh facility in the Yunkom mine in the Donetsk oblast (MENR, 2018; OSCE, 2018c; Yakovlev and Chumachenko, 2017).  Accordingly, these sites now pose a risk of radioactive contamination if entrained and carried out of the shaft in mine water. The most recent survey conducted by the MENR—which was in 2016 as they can no longer safely access all of the mine sites they manage—found that there are now 35 mines where groundwater pumping has stopped and the mines are flooded. The survey also found that total groundwater pumping had decreased from 2.2 billion liters/day to 1.4 billion liters/day, and MENR officials estimate that this amount has continued to significantly decrease as mine management has dissipated as the conflict persists (MENR, 2018; Yakovlev, 2018).

As the result of the interaction of these factors—deterioration of mine management and pumping, flooding of subsurface mines, and surface water contamination by effected groundwater—water quality throughout the Donbas has significantly decreased to levels below the standards set by the SNRA of 2010 (Gov of Ukraine, 2010; MENR, 2018). In 2016, the MENR tested 35 wells, springs, and surface waters in the government-controlled areas (GCAs) of the Donbas and 26 wells, springs, and surface waters in the NGCAs (MENR, 2018). Prior to the conflict, the MENR found that these same sites were all potable; the results of the 2016 survey demonstrated that 30 of 35 GCA sites and 25 of 26 NGCA sites were contaminated and deemed non-potable (Yakovlev and Chumachenko, 2017). These results are directly due to the increased amount of contaminated mine water reaching surface waters and percolating through the shafts to other groundwater sources (Yakovlev and Chumachenko, 2017). Three of the sites—located in the villages of Beretski, Krasne, and Mariupol which are near inactive mines where subsurface nuclear detonations had been used—had radiation levels that significantly exceeded the baseline level of radiation in the Donbas of 15 microrems/hour (mcR/h), with the villages demonstrating levels of radiation at 154 mcR/h, 152 mcR/h and 103 mcR/h respectively (MENR, 2018). For comparison purposes, the United States Environmental Protection Agency suggests that multi-year exposure levels not exceed 11.4 mcR/h (US EPA, 2012). The MENR asserts that the increased rate of water contamination is directly due to increased rates of water entering inactive and unmanaged mines, with an estimated 87,000 m3 of contaminated mine water being discharged every hour (MENR, 2018; Yakovlev and Chumachenko, 2017).

The flooded mines in the Donbas have produced other environmental hazards in addition to water contamination. The MENR (2018) estimates that the rate of methane and radon released from subsurface mines has substantially increased due to the flooding, decreasing local air quality (MENR, 2018).  The flooding of mines has also destabilized some of the 9 billion m3 of galleries throughout the Donbas resulting in 8,000 km2 of mining areas experiencing an average of 1.75m of subsidence (Yakovlev and Chumachenko, 2017). Thus, the impacts of environmental neglect due to warfare in the Donbas are expressed in both geophysical processes, such as subsidence and groundwater contamination, and physiological processes, i.e., the slow degradation of human and environmental health due to pollution increased rates of hazardous pollution.


#4:  The Environment as Control in Ukraine

With much of the environment of the Donbas being degraded and rendered unsafe by contamination and UXO, and also neglected because managers cannot safely access and maintain the sites they are charged with monitoring, control over those resources that are functioning and useable is rendered even more valuable and important. Two of the main resources that are in short supply and high demand due is water for household needs and fuel—primarily coal—for energy and monetary needs. Many municipal water facilities have either been destroyed or are non-functional due to lack of maintenance, forcing people to seek alternative water sources such as boreholes, wells and springs (Yakovlev and Chumachenko, 2017). As access to clean water continues to diminish, the importation of water will become necessary producing a new mechanism of control over the population.

Donbas coal is being exported out of the country to fund the Russian-backed separatists operations in the region (UNIAN, 2018b; Varfolomeyev, 2017). The sale of coal allows them to purchase needed supplies and to be less reliant on the surrounding population to meet these needs, allowing them to exert even more control over locals. By controlling the extraction and flow of coal the separatists also control the distribution of fuel to who need it for households needs such as cooking and heating, providing another mechanism of enforcement for the separatists.

Harnessing environmental services as a mechanism of control in the Donbas is likely to increase as the conflict continues and resources become more scarce (MENR, 2018; UNIAN, 2018b). In the NGCAs, the MENR and other state ministries cannot provide essential services to the population. The physical and psychological impacts of this failure to deliver basic services will likely continue to accumulate and to negatively affect the population.  As this spiral continues, it will augment the amount of control afforded to those actors who do control what scarce resources persist.


Conclusion and Suggestions for Future Research

Scenes of direct violence occurring as part of the ongoing violent conflict in the Donbas have captured media attention and populated periodicals worldwide. Concurrently, some attention has been paid to the growing environmental disaster that is occurring concomitantly to the conflict (most notably, Gumenyuk and Nazarov, 2018), but no research work has yet accounted for the full spectrum of hazards accumulating and the potential socio-ecological disaster expanding exponentially. With the Donbas area highly industrialized and home to a significant number of extractive mining operations and industrial production facilities, the risk of ecological disaster as a function of the ongoing violent conflict is significantly higher than it might be in other conflict zones in less developed contexts. While the Donbas had issues of contamination prior to the conflict, the MENR was able to actively monitor and manage it. Now, due to the ongoing conflict, the MENR can no longer manage and work to mitigate the environmental risks from the existing 4,000 contaminated sites, and they cannot work to prevent the production of more contaminated sites which is rapidly occurring.

One of the key points of the unfolding environmental disaster is the daunting reality that it will likely carry one much longer than the violent conflict will and will permeate political boundaries: pollution flows irrespective of political borders. Due to the persistence of pollutants in ecosystems, they will remain active and harmful in the Donbas and in the global ecosystem even if/once peace is achieved, unless active remediation is immediately conducted. The full picture of the complex humanitarian emergency and political quagmire in Ukraine therefore requires stretching the framing of the disaster and the cost of war beyond the confines of direct physical fighting. Unless environmental issues such as the flooding of mines and the spread of solid waste are immediately addressed, even in the challenging context of ongoing fighting and shelling, the ecosystem and the people inhabiting the Donbas region will continue to suffer and literally embody the damage for decades to come. It is in the interest of both the Ukrainian government and the Russian-back separatists to begin to orient on the strategic implications of this environmental disaster. The ecological collapse of the Donbas is in the interest of neither group, but yet is still rapidly becoming a potential reality.

As a next step, we suggest that our monitoring tool can be used to frame and analyze other conflicts to assess their ecological impact and potential for environmental disaster. Moreover, in rapid needs assessments in complex humanitarian emergencies, the abundance of presenting factors clouds assessments and makes prioritization difficult (Klugman, 1999).  We therefore suggest that as additional cases are compared using the four-part assessment tool presented here, a policy prioritization roadmap for each of the four categories of environmental risks can be developed.  This roadmap will help to upgrade environmental risks on the agenda of political actors by demonstrating the possibility and the benefits of tailored intervention efforts that distill an environment of negative information saturation into workable problem sets. Successful assessments of the presenting short and long-term impacts also bolster effective prioritization, which not only properly sequences a “triage” approach to a complex humanitarian emergency (Van Arsdale 2016) but also can support the reclamation of local agency and buy-in as quickly as possible (Hook, 2015).



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About the Author(s)

Dr. Kristina Hook is a Research Assistant Professor and the Executive Director of the Better Evidence Project in the Center for Peacemaking Practice at George Mason University’s Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution.  She is an anthropologist and scholar-practitioner specializing in large-scale violence against civilians (including genocides and mass atrocities) as well as emerging forms of warfare and violence. She has research, teaching, and professional experience on topics including genocides and mass atrocities, civilian protection, post-conflict reconstruction, and evolving security challenges like hybrid warfare and environmental degradation. Dr. Hook has worked in 23 countries including across Eastern Europe, the Balkans, the Middle East, East Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Caribbean. 

Dr. Hook received a joint PhD in peace studies and anthropology from the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies and Department of Anthropology. She also holds M.A. degrees in anthropology (2017) and in international development (2012) from the University of Notre Dame and the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies respectively. She holds a B.A. in anthropology from the University of Florida, where she graduated summa cum laude and as a valedictorian.

Prior to her time in academia, Dr. Hook served as a policy advisor at the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations and as a political/economic officer in an embassy-based diplomatic posting abroad. She received a U.S. Department of State Meritorious Honor Award for her work on preventing and responding to mass atrocities and was a 2013-2015 U.S. Presidential Management Fellow. She also held leadership roles in two international development non-governmental organizations and was recognized in 2017 with the Society for Applied Anthropology’s Human Rights Defender Award.

A 2018-2019 U.S. Fulbright scholar to Ukraine, Dr. Hook’s current book project explores the dynamics and legacy of the Soviet-era Holodomor mass atrocities, including how these events influenced modern interpretations of Ukraine’s current armed conflict with Russian-backed separatists. Supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF GRFP) and a USAID Research and Innovation Fellowship, she conducted two-and-a-half years of ethnographic fieldwork in Ukraine from 2015-2019. Trained in qualitative and quantitative methods, she analyzes how influential Ukrainian political actors (e.g., politicians, lawyers, civil society representatives, activists, academics, etc.) interacted and interpreted historical legacies of violence to respond to unfolding national crises. Dr. Hook is also a non-resident fellow at the Marine Corps University’s Brute Krulak Center for Innovation and Creativity.

Drew (Richard) Marcantonio (peace studies and anthropology) holds a Master of Arts in Anthropology from the University of Notre Dame (2018), a Master of Public Affairs degree from Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) (2016) and a B.A. in Geography and the Environment from the University of Texas at Austin (2009). Prior to beginning his graduate work at SPEA, Drew served in the United States Marine Corps as an Infantry Officer and Foreign Military Advisor in Afghanistan. During his graduate studies at SPEA he led a research project in Zambia working with smallholder farmers to understand local perceptions of, and responses to, water scarcity. 

Drew is pursuing a dual-PhD in Peace Studies and Anthropology. His current research is centered on developing a concept of environmental violence, the process by which humans are harmed and/or have their everyday lives altered by human-produced toxic and non-toxic pollution. To accomplish this, Drew is currently leading two projects. One project is partnered with Team Rubicon and focused on climate change-driven extreme weather events across the US; the other project is partnered with the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone and focused on the effects of mining along the Pampana River in Sierra Leone. Drew is a Richard and Peggy Notebaert Premier Fellow, a Mullen Family Fellow, and a Dolores Zohrab Liebmann Fellow.



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