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‘When we got here, it was a beautiful forest’ The Russia-Ukraine war has destroyed thousands of acres of Ukraine’s forest. Photo and video of the ecological effects of nearly 18 months of war.

Source: Meduza

During the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, forested tracts and strips between fields have become the only shelter available to soldiers trying to hide from reconnaissance drones. For that reason, Ukraine’s forests have become sites of particularly intense fighting and targets for seemingly endless missile and artillery strikes. Since October 2022, a separate “forest front” has existed to the north of the Siverskyi Donets River near the city of Kreminna. Large forces from both Russia and Ukraine have faced off there, bombing and shelling the forest with every available type of weapon, from mine-clearing vehicles to powerful aerial bombs. At the same time, the Russian army continues its long-standing practice of mining practically every strip of forest in the northern Zaporizhzhia and southern Donetsk regions.

A forest road in the Chernihiv region after heavy combat followed by Russian troops’ withdrawal, April 2022.
Marko Djurica / Reuters / Scanpix / LETA
Holy Mountains National Nature Park in the northern part of the Donetsk region. For several months in 2022, one of the war’s front lines ran through the forest along the Siverskyi Donets River, until Ukraine’s Armed Forces liberated the park in the fall. In March 2023, signs of last year’s fighting were still visible in those forests.
Ihor Tkachov / AFP / Scanpix / LETA
Forest in Kreminna, June 2023
Sasha Maslov for The Washington Post / Getty Images
A Ukrainian soldier in the Kreminna forest, June 2023. Traces of a fire are visible. Fighting has been ongoing in this forest since October and Russian troops have not been able to force Ukrainian units out of the area.
Anatolii Stepanov / AFP / Scanpix / LETA
A camouflaged D-30 howitzer fires at Russian positions near Kreminna. Forests gave soldiers on both sides much-needed cover from skies filled with reconnaissance and attack drones.
Libkos / AP / Scanpix / LETA
A Ukrainian soldier in the forest says, “When we first got here, it was a beautiful forest, almost untouched. Only a couple of trees were down. And now it looks like shit.” Click for video and sound.
Defense Ministry of the Russian Federation
A burned section of the Kreminna forest near Yampil, November 2022. The village was captured by the Russian army in May and liberated by Ukraine in September.
Andriy Andriyenko / AP / Scanpix / LETA
A mined forest strip on the Izyum–Slovyansk road. Russian soldiers called this section the Sherwood Forest. They tried from April to September 2022 to capture it, but in the end were forced to withdraw. A large number of mines and unexploded ordnance remain in the forest.
Marek M. Berezowski / Anadolu Agency / ABACAPRESS / ddp images / Vida Press
Traces of combat in Holy Mountains National Park, October 2022, when Ukraine’s Armed Forces recaptured parts of the forest on the banks of the Siverskyi Donets.
Carl Court / Getty Images
A large, old tree serves as a makeshift roadblock in the Donbas, June 2022
Bernat Armangue / AP / Scanpix / LETA
Anti-tank mines in the forest near the Mokri Yaly River, not far from Velyka Novosilka, in southern Ukraine, summer 2023. On the eve of Ukraine’s offensive, Russian troops lined all the forested tracts and strips in the southern Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia regions.
Diego Herrera Carcedo / Anadolu Agency / ABACAPRESS / ddp images / Vida Press
Burned out Russian equipment in a burned forest belt in the Kharkiv region after Ukraine’s successful fall 2022 offensive. Regional authorities are trying to clear the forests of scrap metal and are paying local residents to collect it.
Mykhaylo Palinchak / SOPA Images / Sipa USA / Vida Press
Pine trees damaged by artillery fire in a forest outside of Bucha, in the Kyiv region. Both sides in the conflict used artillery in combat near Ukraine’s capital from February to March 2022.
Pavlo Dorohoi
Fire-marked trees in the forest near Chornobyl, September 2022. At the beginning of the war, 14,000 hectares (34,600 acres) of forest burned during a month of fighting, at the beginning of the current war, in the exclusion zone created in the aftermath of the 1986 disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.
Narciso Contreras / Anadolu Agency / ABACAPRESS / ddp images / Vida Press
The site of a forest fire, started during combat in spring 2022, near Chornobyl
Narciso Contreras / Anadolu Agency / ABACAPRESS / ddp images / Vida Press
Flooded trees on the Irpin River, near the village of Demydiv in the Kyiv region. Ukraine’s Armed Forces reportedly blew up a dam on the river in order to slow Russian troops’ advance on Ukraine’s capital. The Ukrainian authorities have blamed Russia for the flooding.
Nicolas Garcia / AFP / Scanpix / LETA
Flooded forest near the village of Demydiv after an explosion at a dam on the Irpin River, February 28, 2022
Yasuyoshi Chiba / AFP / Scanpix / LETA
Rocket fragments in a burned forest strip on the outskirts of Mykolaiv, August 2022
Stanislav Kozliuk / Reuters / Scanpix / LETA
The tail end of an 85-millimeter mine, stuck in tree branches in a grove of trees in the Mykolaiv region.
Efrem Lukatsky / AP / Scanpix / LETA
The results of an artillery strike in the Kherson region
Mykhailo Palinchak / Alamy / Vida Press
Mykhailo Palinchak / Alamy / Vida Press
Fighting in the swampy forests on islands in the Dnipro River did not stop even after flooding caused by the rupture of Kakhovka Hyropower Plant. This photo was taken near the Antonivka Bridge, where Ukrainian Armed Forces landed in June 2023.
Nicolas Cleuet / Le Pictorium Agency / ZUMA Press / Scanpix / LETA
Trees washed out during the flood after the rupture of the Kakhovka dam were carried to the Black Sea and washed ashore near Odesa
Art-Studio / Alamy / Vida Press

Photo editing by Katya Balaban

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