Tuesday, 11 June 2024 15:16

UNDP supports innovative solution to ‘war waste’ in Ukraine

The UN Development Progamme (UNDP) is helping to tackle the mountain of rubble and waste in Ukraine — one of the fallouts from the full-scale Russian invasion of the country, now in its third year.

The war has affected more than a quarter of Ukraine’s territory, according to the authorities, and caused large-scale destruction to buildings that has left thousands of tonnes of debris, creating a huge problem that will take decades to resolve.

In most communities, this waste is not properly sorted, resulting in the formation of “spontaneous landfills”.

Equipment and training

UNDP has been dismantling the rubble from destroyed buildings and introducing a system of waste management. The agency, with support from the European Union (EU), recently helped establish a station to process waste that has accumulated in Bucha, located in the Kyiv region.

Russian troops occupied the city for nearly a month during the early stages of the war, committing atrocities that were revealed following its liberation, including the massacre of scores of civilians.

UNDP and the EU supplied equipment such as mobile crushers and excavators for the waste management site, in addition to training personnel. The Bucha city administration in turn allocated a four-acre plot of land for the facility. This is the first such UN project in Ukraine, and plans are underway for other regions of the country.

Thousands of homes damaged

“Ukraine has not seen such a scale of destruction before, so there was no need to be able to handle such waste, there was no system," said Roman Shakhmatenko, UNDP Team Leader of the Environment Portfolio.

“This landfill was formed immediately after the de-occupation of the Kyiv region. The waste of destruction was not initially sorted here — then it was necessary to clear the settlements as soon as possible so that people began to return. Now we need to do something about it. In general, the problem today in the Kyiv region is very big — thousands of houses have been damaged."

The Mayor of Bucha, Anatoly Fedoruk, agreed. He said any talk about restoration and rebuilding must start with understanding the need to dismantle and remove whatever was destroyed.

He noted that more than 4,000 buildings including high-rise apartments, were damaged in Bucha alone.

“At the first stage, more than 500 private houses destroyed as a result of hostilities were dismantled and removed,” he said.

Mayor Fedoruk recalled that the large dump there included equipment and more than 200 cars, which remained for a long time with no decision regarding their proper disposal.

“Then people began to return and take all their household garbage there, and this became a huge problem — a spontaneous landfill formed. Thanks to the first UNDP private sector cleanup programme, we were able to clean up the area. Right now, the volume we need to process is still very large,” he said.

“We have accumulated 75,000 cubic metres of destruction waste. We need to sort it all, process it and recycle it. And those residues that cannot be recycled must be disposed of according to European standards. This is a complex process, but we plan to completely organize all landfills by the end of this year.”

Innovation in Bucha

Mr. Shakhmatenko explained that at the heart of the operation is a mobile crusher that processes waste so that it can be reused later, such as in new construction.

“This machine can process 80 cubic metres of waste per hour. For example, one large truck is 15 cubic metres. That is, the crusher processes five such vehicles per hour. This will be sufficient for the needs of the region.”

UN News/Anna Radomska
From left to right: Mayor of Bucha Anatoly Fedoruk, Head of Buchaservice utility company Serhii Mostipaka, UNDP Team Leader for Energy and Environment Portfolio Roman Shakhmatenko, and UNDP Communications Specialist Anastasia Shapran.

The waste processing station is divided into several areas. The first stage involves clearing the rubble and sorting the wood, plastic and glass, said Serhii Mostipaka, head of the “Buchaservice” utility company.

“What is already being transported to the second location is what is then processed by a crusher — it can crush concrete and brick into different sizes, from the largest to the smallest,” he said.

“This is an almost waste-free production — waste is taken to a landfill, sorted, processed and reused. Only waste containing asbestos cannot be recycled and disposed of.”

Asbestos problem

UNDP said a special laboratory will be installed on the premises to detect asbestos – both in the waste and in the air where work takes place — in line with international standards. Exposure can cause lung cancer, mesothelioma, cancer of the larynx and ovary, and asbestosis or fibrosis of the lungs, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Mr. Shakhmatenko described asbestos as “a separate huge problem” as it can be found in slate roofs and various insulation materials.

“All over the world, this problem began to be solved back in the 70s, and it was very expensive. We have only just started working on this. New production of asbestos is prohibited, but what to do with the waste is a very difficult question,” he said.

“We need special places for its burial and separate technologies for handling it. For ourselves, we have already developed appropriate protocols for dealing with asbestos — we pack it and take it out for temporary storage in specially designated places, where it will remain until special places for its disposal become available.”

Sign “Beware of landmines” in Ukraine
UN News/Anna Radomska
Sign “Beware of landmines” in Ukraine
Mayor Fedoruk said that before any work can begin in territories that were under occupation, mine clearance must take place, and it is a difficult and long process.
“I am not exaggerating when I say that where the Russian army was, all territories need professional inspection by sappers. There are many ‘surprises’ left,” he said.
“A month ago, we began manually sorting out the waste that was exported here. Unfortunately, we found the remains of what the Russian military left behind — various explosive objects. Mindfulness is very important.”

“Terrible ‘discoveries’” surface

“There are other terrible ‘discoveries’,” added Mr. Shakhmatenko of UNDP.
“While clearing out the rubble, we recently found the corpse of a man with his eyes and hands blindfolded. This happened when we were dismantling one of the houses in Bucha. What remains of the body is practically a mummy.”
Today, 76 people from the city – men, women and children – are still considered missing, said Mayor Fedoruk.
“We know that some of them are in Russian captivity, but where the rest are is unknown. This example makes us understand that we will be able to find some of the missing people while clearing the rubble.”
Disassembling war-damaged buildings in Ukraine.
UN News/Anna Radomska
Disassembling war-damaged buildings in Ukraine.

UN system support

The Mayor commended support received from the UN Country Team in Ukraine, describing it as “a real partnership”.

Joining in on the praise, Mr. Mostipaka of the Buchaservice utility company said practically all of its equipment was almost destroyed as a result of the war.

“This project with UNDP actually gave a second life to our utility company,” he said.

Today, "Buchaservice" is involved in the maintenance of apartment buildings, road surfaces, sidewalks, lighting and even cemeteries, as well as garbage removal in 12 settlements in the region.

“We have operators who can work on new equipment,” he added, noting that several women have joined their ranks as some of the men left to serve in the war.

Disassembling war-damaged buildings in Ukraine.
UN News/Anna Radomska
Disassembling war-damaged buildings in Ukraine.

Post-war plans

The UNDP project also addresses longer-term issues, such as recycling, given that waste is always accumulating.

“Even during peace time there is always a need to recycle brick, concrete, foam concrete — there is always construction waste because the city is being built all the time,” Mayor Fedoruk said.

“It is important to establish a service so that everyone knows that there is a location where you can always bring garbage, and where it will always be accepted, selected, sorted, processed and properly disposed of.”

He said it was no coincidence that UNDP chose Buchaservice “because even before the war we tried to handle waste properly” and the recycling programme is like “a second life” for the company.

“They not only help us cope with all the rubble and waste from destruction, but also help us develop the utility company according to European standards.”

Disassembling war-damaged buildings in Ukraine.
UN News/Anna Radomska
Disassembling war-damaged buildings in Ukraine.

Local leaders critical

UNDP plans to establish similar projects in other regions of Ukraine, such as Chernihiv and Kharkiv.

The volume of rubble in the country is so great that no one knows exactly how much there is, said Mr. Shakhmatenko.

“We understand that this is a problem for years to come. And if we can solve it the way it is now organized in Bucha, it will be very good,” he added.

“However, we must remember that 60 percent of the work in this case was done by local authorities and the utility company, and UNDP helped. A lot depends on local leaders.”