Anna Ustinova-Boychenko, Ph.D., Associate Professor

After the illegal occupation of Crimea begun, the Russia’s “authorities” control 48 objects of the natural reserve fund of Ukraine of state significance on the peninsula, 40 of which, after the beginning of the occupation, were “reduced in status to a regional significance”. As a rule, such “objects of regional significance” are extremely vulnerable and in fact they are not protected from abuse by unscrupulous subjects of the Russia’s “powers”, who, having the “authority” to “change the boundaries of the territory of such objects” for various purposes, can cause the destruction of protected ecosystems for selfish purposes.

In fact, from the very beginning of the rule of the invaders’ “authorities”, it became clear that the preservation of the natural reserve funds of the Crimea is not a priority for them, since in August 2014 Vladimir Konstantinov, the so-called head of the “State Council of the Republic of Crimea”, announced the need to “liquidate the Opuksky and Kazantipsky reserves”, since they allegedly “impede the development of animal husbandry”. Although the main motive for depriving these territories of their protected status was, of course, the usage of valuable coastal areas and untouched nature for urbanization and development [1].

By 2019, all specially protected natural territories of Ukraine in the Crimea, controlled by the aggressor, were under the jurisdiction of “republican authorities” and had a “regional status”, but on September 13, 2018, a resolution of the Government of Russia was adopted, according to which these Crimean territories received the status of “federal significance” … After that, in November 2019, the “Federal State Budgetary Institution” “Zapovednyy Krym” was created, into whose management the “reserves” Kazantipsky, Opuksky, Yalta Mountain Forest, Swan Islands were unlawfully transferred, as well as “state nature reserves of federal significance” “Karkinitsky” and “Small Phyllophoric Field”.

In these territories, the invaders’ “administration” established new rules and visits to these territories became possible only with the appropriate permission. Walks were allowed only “along the approved routes”, the picking of berries, mushrooms, medicinal herbs, hunting and fishing were prohibited, in addition, visits to such territories became paid. Violation of the new “rules” is now regarded as an “administrative offense” [2]. Having seized such natural wealth, the Russia’s “aurthorities” decided not to neglect the opportunity to receive “additional income” from the seized lands. As a result, the inhabitants of Crimea were not only deprived of the opportunity to use natural gifts, but were also forced to pay the “occupation authorities” for visiting their familiar natural locations.

In addition, in accordance with the mentioned “decrees”, from the aggressor’s point of view, the “Cape Martyan” reserve “ceased to exist”, and the area of the “Yalta Mountain-Forest Reserve” was reduced by 36.5 hectares, and the lands of the “Crimean Nature Reserve” were partially received a “reduced security regime”. Environmentalists note that all this is being done by the Russian invaders for the sake of building up reserves. So lands were withdrawn from the territory of the “Yalta Mountain-Forest Reserve” and the “Crimean Nature Reserve” for the construction of “government dachas”, and such building areas, for example, are equivalent to all the suburban forests of Kyiv. Another goal, according to ecologists, was the arrangement of “elite hunting”. In accordance with “federal legislation” it is stipulated that “nature reserves and national parks are subordinated to the Russian Ministry of Nature”. The “Aksyonovs”, who had long planned to plunder the Yalta Reserve, covered themselves with the fact that “all this needs to be inventoried,” and now we see how they carried out this “revision” [3].

For Russia-controlled “officials” from a commercial point of view, the most tasty morsel was the “Yalta Mountain-Forest Reserve”, which accounts for more than half (14.5 thousand hectares) of the reserved land “transferred to the federal authorities”. The territory of the “Yalta Mountain-Forest Reserve” stretches along the Southern Coast of Crimea – the center of the resort life of the region. Most of the most popular natural attractions, which have been the hallmarks of the Crimea for decades, are located within the reserve.

Access to them was permitted at all times. Only the Russian illegal “authorities” decided to radically change the situation, since they declare that the introduction of pedestrian routes in the Yalta Reserve will accumulate the lion’s share of funds for the “officials”. In the “Ministry of Natural Resources of Crimea” they say in plain text that from now on “the most valuable natural complexes and objects (on the territory of Crimea) are concentrated within the federal protected areas (specially protected natural areas)”. The term “valuable” should be understood not only in the sense of natural resources, but also in the context of commercial potential [4].

We can understand how the invaders’ “authorities” use the natural resources of the Crimea by assessing their treatment of the “Bakalskaya Spit” Regional Landscape Park. At one time, Ukraine was able to stop the extraction of sand at the Bakalskaya Bank deposit, which is located several kilometers from the landscape park, but after the occupation of the Crimea, such illegal activities resumed, intensified and is carried out not only directly at the Bakalskaya Bank deposit, but also for its outside, right in the park.

Of course, Russia’s “authorities” are aware of this illegal activity, since the sand extracted there was used for the illegal construction of the Kerch Bridge. The result of such activities of the invaders’ “authorities” is the flooding of about 10 hectares of the territory of the landscape park, the pollution of coastal areas and, accordingly, the destruction of one of the most picturesque corners of Ukraine, which the locals called the “Ukrainian Maldives” [1].

The extraction of sand on the territory of the “Bakalskaya Spit” is not the only problem, since in order to “develop aquaculture”, the Russia-controlled “authorities” put up for sale two plots with the aim of concluding an “agreement on the use of fish breeding plots”. Regardless of what kind of aquaculture objects are supposed to be raised there (fry or mussels), their breeding is very dangerous for the coast and the protected area. These technologies involve the use of chemistry, hormones, antibiotics. The half-eaten food is scattered by the sea currents, fish feces are carried along the shore. If all this happens on 76 hectares of the spit, it will lead to disaster [5].

Such economic activity poses an environmental threat to the coast, nature protection zone and the population of the Crimean peninsula and proves once again that instead of protecting unique natural resources, the Russia-controlled “authorities” find ways to “cash in” once again on what can only belong to the people. They deliberately destroy objects that are not only an aesthetic pleasure for population, but also maintain the overall water balance of our planet. The actual disappearance of the “Bakalskaya Spit” is one of the examples of the thoughtless, indifferent and predatory possession of natural resources, which remained for centuries until the occupation.

We can observe other examples of the ownerless use of the Crimean nature reserve fund on the example of the “Cape Martyan” reserve, which is generally unlawfully “deprived of its reserve status”. In fact, this means the destruction of the unique flora and fauna of the Mediterranean type. On the territory of the “Opuksky Nature Reserve”, regular military exercises are carried out with bombing, missile launches and firing from ships. Such activity actually destroys unique natural resources. Also, the Russia-controlled “authorities” use other methods of destruction. For example, the “Crimean Nature Reserve” “was turned into a national natural park” – now “economic activities are allowed here and a large-scale development of tourism is planned”. The consequences of such acts will be irreversible, which humanity will feel in the near future [6].

The quarantine, established in 2020, also made certain adjustments, since the lack of public observation created additional opportunities for “enterprising entities” to develop new land in the tracts, where construction was impossible until 2014. Until a certain moment, the local “authorities” were “blind” and did not notice that in April 2020, a new construction site appeared on the 32nd kilometer of the Feodosia-Sudak highway near the village of Schebetovka. The site is adjacent to the borders of the “Karadag Scientific Station named after T.I. Vyazemsky”. This object was declared by the invaders as a “natural reserve of the Russian Academy of Sciences” and it was declared by them as a branch of the “Federal Research Center” “Institute of Biology of the Southern Seas named after A.O. Kovalevsky”, formed by the invaders in Sevastopol.

This behavior caused anxiety among the local residents of Schebetovka and Koktebel, since this place is important for the Crimean residents because of the location of the “Frog” spring, the water of which is considered curative. Considering the fact that the developer behaved defiantly and unceremoniously, Crimean inhabitants suspected that another cottage “elite” settlement would be built on the site included in the reserve fund. The territory of the reserve itself is protected by law and any construction, even outside the reserve, is prohibited. At the same time, before the Russian aggression, the Ukrainian administration of the Karadag Reserve established and registered its borders, and in addition, along the outer perimeter, there is also a security zone, on which construction is also prohibited. But now two plots with an area of 0.15 and 0.23 hectares, on which construction has begun, somehow “passed into the ownership” of a resident of Kerch, respectively “for individual housing construction and agricultural purposes” [7].

Either the negligence of the responsible subjects, or the “blindness” of the local “authorities” created an opportunity for housing construction by private individuals in the protected area, and unfortunately, such cases on the Crimean peninsula today have become a very frequent occurrence. This behavior of the Russian invaders’ “authorities” is outraged by the Crimean population, who declare that since 2014, the new “authorities” have completely seized the entire coast of Crimea for construction. At the same time, the Russia-controlled local propaganda promotes the “beautiful and justified needs” for the housing development of the coast [8].

Near Sudak, in the Kapsel Bay on Cape Meganom, the aggressor-controlled structures are carrying out construction work on the objects of the “art cluster” “Tavrida”. This became possible due to the fact that in 2019 a part of the reserve “lost” its protected status after the “decisions” of the occupation “authorities”. Local residents could not put up with such an outrage and tried (naturally unsuccessfully) to obstruct the construction equipment operating on the territory of Cape Meganom, and also “appealed to the various authorities” to stop illegal actions. However, they naturally did not receive an intelligible answer from anyone [9].

The Russia-controlled “authorities”, in order to justify their actions on the site of the project “Art-residence” “Tavrida”, declares the alleged benefits of the project for Sudak. It was stated that “the development area is outside the specially protected natural objects of regional significance of the Republic of Crimea”. The propaganda declared that “all activities related to the construction of the art residence are carried out exclusively within the legal framework of the federal project “Social Activity” in accordance with the instructions of the President of Russia and in compliance with all obligations stipulated in the trilateral agreement on cooperation between the administration of Sudak, the autonomous non-profit organization “Center for the Development of Cultural Initiatives” and the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Crimea”. It was even promised that “positive changes will affect the sphere of energy and water supply, wastewater disposal, road repair, creation of a pedestrian zone, and the arrangement of beaches”.

It was stated by Russian invaders that “the project of the facility provided for the construction of a water conduit that will transit through nearby villages and provide their residents with uninterrupted water supply”. It was noted by them that “the general plan includes the construction of a pressure header and a sewage pumping station, which will serve, among other things, the nearby settlements. In addition, the reconstruction of the Kapsel electric sub-station, which supplies electricity to the entire Sudak, will take place. As a result, its capacity and productivity will increase, as well as the likelihood of power outages will decrease, especially during the hot tourist season” [10]. Of course, this all remained at the level of promises only.

In fact, construction work is being carried out in the protected zone of the Cape Meganom natural monument, where the Red Book plants grow, and local residents are now deprived of access to the sea through a composite fence. It also became known that the first deputy of the Russian presidential administration, Sergei Kiriyenko, was involved in the approval of this project. The project was also personally approved by Vladimir Putin, by the former Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and by a group of Russian top officials. The general contractor is this firm of Putin’s longtime friend, Gennady Timchenko.

Forum “Tavrida” and this “art cluster” became another attempt of the Kremlin to build a youth policy. As Nadezhda Isaeva, a journalist from Sevastopol, noted: “It seems that Russia is smoothly flowing into the Soviet Union in terms of negative practices: something like a Komsomol is being created. They are trying to appease young people with parties in good places, buy their loyalty, perhaps with some kind of career lift. It is for this that a unique place in Crimea is being destroyed in a completely barbaric way” [11].

Residents of Crimea are outraged by such “barbaric” behavior and the use of unique natural areas. But the Russian-controlled “authorities” disregard not only the opinion of the Crimean population, but of the environmentalists also, who repeatedly emphasize that the tendency to militarize the peninsula, thoughtless use and disposal of natural resources will lead to catastrophic irreversible consequences, as a result of which the flora and fauna of the Crimean peninsula will change. This will entail a large-scale change in the natural resources, in particular – the marine balance of our planet.