“Ukraine is internationally important for wild birds: 434 species, 18 globally threatened birds, 19 species for which the country hosts more than 15% of the European population (over 60 percent of the Slender-billed Gull species resides in Ukraine) and 141 Important Bird Areas covering 2.5 million hectares. All of them are under the threat of direct and indirect influence of military actions.” Birdlife.org. Photos.
Since the invasion of Ukraine by Russia in February of 2022, bombing campaigns, missiles, rocket attacks, and following fires have not only damaged urban structures but have decimated large swaths of habitat as well. It’s not only the physical damage to the habitat and the direct killing of birds, but the resultant disturbance that accompanies war. The chemical pollution from mines and bombs pollute the ground and the destruction of warehouses with chemicals like fertilizer add to the hazards. Local people are cutting trees for firewood as gas and coal supplies dwindle. Scarce and unpredictable food supplies have increased hunting pressure on larger birds like waterfowl and grouse. And, clearly, there is no incentive or even interest in protecting the environment in such a state of affairs. There is a Ukrainian Society for the Protection of Birds (USPB) but it’s unlikely that they are very active at this terrible time.
In November 2022, Russian troops are fortifying their defenses, the defense line bordering the existing territories of nature reserves. It is clear that the construction of fortifications will be on the Black Sea Biosphere Reserve as well as others, according to the Ukrainian Nature Conservation Group.
As if things were not weird enough the Russian Ministry of Defense made a bizarre claim that the U.S. government is training birds to carry biological weapons from Ukraine to Russia. It was boosted by Major General Igor Konashenkov, the chief spokesman for the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, who spoke on camera about this entirely fictional plot.
One bright spot comes from Olkesandr Ruchko, a 59 year-old birdwatcher in Ukraine. Since the war began, he started giving free birdwatching tours around the parks in Lviv to refuges who have come from cities like Kyiv and Kharkiv. He is still eligible for the draft for another year and is somewhat stymied in his effort to point out birds with no binoculars because anyone using binoculars or a telescope might be considered a spy. Olkesandr is the director of the Ukrainian Birdwatching Centre, offering information on Ukraine’s birds and various tours, including a 12 day one in western Ukraine.
Of the 450 species of birds, perhaps the most famous one is the White Stork, Ukraine’s national bird. The stork is very sacred to Ukrainians, a symbol of spring, of babies, and of peace. They are believed to be a kind of amulet, protecting your house against evil. Nobody in Ukraine ever kills storks to eat, not even in the worst times. Olkesandr said the storks “don’t know borders, they need no visas or permissions to spend winter in Egypt then come back to Ukraine. And we are all happy that they are back safely, giving us hope for better times.”