The mass resettlement of the Russian population, loyal to the local “authorities”, to the occupied Crimea faced an objective problem – the lack of places to accommodate the arriving “colonizers”. And if plots for multi-storey construction can still be distinguished with one stroke of the “bureaucratic pen”, then you cannot create building materials out of thin air. It is unprofitable to import banal sand and crushed stone by land or sea from the territory of Russia, which means that they must be mined locally, in compliance with all bureaucratic “norms of Russian legislation”. Or rather, not all of them. Since the construction of the bridge over the Kerch Strait was carried out without an environmental impact assessment, the activities of the quarry developers should be turned a blind eye. Associate Professor Andrii Chvalyuk will tell in more detail about the serial criminal activity of the Crimean “subsoil users”.

The first stage of the career boom in the Crimea began with the construction of the “Kerch Bridge”, and then the “Tavrida highway”. And after the aggressor State included in 2019 the “Republic of Crimea” in the “list of priority geostrategic territories”, the mineral reserves of the peninsula, including widespread local ones, were “recalculated”, and the annual production rates began to be monitored.

In the structure of the “gross regional product of the Republic of Crimea” by type of economic activity in 2019, mining is 0.5 % [1]. But this is only the tip of the iceberg, most of the mining is in the shadows. This is confirmed by the data of the Russian invaders’ “official statistics”. If we take as a basis the “certificate on the state and prospects of the use of the mineral resource base” of the “Republic of Crimea” dated March 15, 2021 and prepared by the Federal Agency for Subsoil Use, then the production of construction sand in the “Republic of Crimea” in 2019 amounted to 1.1 million cubic meters [1]. But if you believe the “report on the socio-economic situation” in the “Republic of Crimea” in 2019, 777.4 thousand cubic meters of ready-made concrete for pouring and 28.1 thousand tons of other building mixtures were produced [2]. According to Russian GOST 27006-86 “Concrete. Rules for the selection of the composition”, 0.51 cubic meters of sand is required for the production of 1 cubic meter of the most common concrete grade 200, which is used for pouring foundations [3].

Making simple calculations, we get a figure of 0.524 million cubic meters of sand. That is, concrete plants existing on the peninsula process at least 50 % of all sand mined in Crimea in a year. Another part of the sand is used for building mixtures or sold privately. But the volume of concrete production is growing. New factories were put into operation in Simferopol and the Chernomorske settlement. It is planned to complete the construction of the plant in Bakhchisarai by the end of this year. So where will the sand be taken from for filling the foundations of the next emergency high-rise buildings and completing the eighth stage of construction of the “Tavrida highway”? Most likely – from new quarries.

Until 2014, virtually the entire Crimean mountain range was already included in the nature reserve fund of Ukraine. After the beginning of the Russian aggression, nature reserves and sanctuaries turned into a resource of building materials – crushed stone and sand, which is mined with dynamite and excavators. According to the “UNCG” environmental group, there are about 260 open pits on the peninsula. At the same time, a significant part of them work illegally or according to gray schemes [4].

About a hundred organizations have “official licenses” for “the use of subsoil plots of local importance on the territory of the region”. As the “head of Crimea” Sergey Aksyonov previously stated, more than half of the Crimean quarries operate “under the black flag”, selling their products half the price [5]. “The register of licenses for the use of subsoil plots of local importance on the territory of the Republic of Crimea” shows that at the moment 12 enterprises are supposedly producing sand and gravel mixtures [6]. “License revocation” in the field of sand extraction is as rare an event in the Crimea as the round-the-clock water supply. In most cases, the “Crimean prosecutor’s office” is limited to formal “fines” or it generally turns a blind eye to violations, so as not to disrupt the “federal schedules” for the construction of roads and housing for the colonizers.

After all, everyone knows that if this schedule flies, someone’s stars on shoulder straps will fly, and maybe the heads will fly also. “The common task before everyone is the implementation of federal programs. And one of the priority areas is the maximum use of local raw materials”, said Alexander Khlebnikov, the “head of the subsoil use department of the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of the Republic of Crimea”, controlled by the Kremlin [4]. So sand and gravel mixtures are mined in the Crimea “where possible and as necessary”.

In 2019 alone, the “State Committee for State Registration and Cadastre of the Republic of Crimea” “revealed more than 40 violations during inspections of open pits”. In 29 cases, companies have arbitrarily occupied land plots. In addition, miners also sin by expanding open pits with going “outside the territory provided to them,” for example, as was done by LLC “EKO-SV-BUD” at the Burulkayske field. The same “Ministry of Ecology of the Republic of Crimea” has repeatedly “milked” a mining company that is working in a quarry near the village of Lesnoselie in the Simferopol District: first time – for “starting work before receiving all the necessary documents”, then several more times “for violating the requirements of environmental legislation”. Burulkayske deposit is known for the fact that loam with crushed stone is mined here, which is used to create the embankment of the “Tavrida” “federal highway” [5]. In the spring of 2021, two more enterprises were fined for extracting sand within the boundaries of the “Starokrymsky forestry” [7]. Naturally, this is only a minimal part of the predatory approach to natural resources identified “for reporting”.

Organizations and individuals involved in illegal extraction of sand in the water protection zone of the Black Sea do not lag behind [8]. Facts like these are harder to track than career developments. In the mentioned case, citizens were able to identify the violator, but most of such violations remain latent. And do not let the small volumes of private production mislead you, because the harm caused to the unique Crimean nature can be large-scale due to the large number of “earners”.

Illegal sand mining is not limited to the peninsula. Let us recall one notable case when, after a two-year break, which lasted from 2016 to May 2018, the Russian invaders resumed illegal sand mining on the Black Sea shelf. Then, under the cover of “Russian border guards” in the Crimea, dredgers “Pechora”, “Trofa”, “Irtysh” and “Amur” mined sand in the Karkinitsky Bay at the Bakalskaya bank, 14 kilometers from the Dzharylgach island near Skadovsk. In October 2018, “Trofa” and “Irtysh”, under the cover of the radio technical post of “Russian border guards” “Bereg 85”, again went to illegal sand mining. According to radio interception, on that day alone, the occupants mined 2,880 tons of sand in Ukrainian territorial waters. Moreover, the dredgers ignored the radio requests of the Ukrainian border guards about the presence of a permit for industrial activities, and by order of the Russian-controlled post “Bereg 85” they changed the frequency [9].

The illegal extraction of sand by the Russian invaders for the construction of the “Tavrida highway” also leads to the destruction of archaeological heritage sites. ‘ARC’ has already reported how after the start of the construction of the highway, Crimean artifacts flooded the black market [10]. If the invaders wanted to preserve the cultural heritage of the “returned Crimea”, they would behave differently, but they think only in economic categories: one dug hole – two items of income. That is why the “Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of the Republic of Crimea” ignored the complaints of even Russian-controlled scientists about the destruction of the ancient settlement due to the development of a sand pit.

According to the “head of the Artesian archaeological expedition”, Doctor of Historical Sciences Nikolay Vinokurov, there were 20 mounds and 450 square meters of necropolis with ancient tombs in the quarry zone. However, the “officials” of the Russia-controlled “administration” were categorical. “The extraction of sand near the village of Chistopolye, Leninsky District of Crimea, does not pose any threat to the nearby ancient settlement Artezianske. And sand is urgently needed for the construction of the Tavrida highway, since there is not enough of its own sand in the Crimea, which would meet the construction requirements” [11]. We should note that at the moment the Ukrainian prosecutor’s office investigates more than 70 invaders’ crimes in relation to objects of culture and history, archeology. 6 criminal cases were opened on 15 facts of environmental pollution and illegal mining [12].

In March last year, “Rosnedra” nevertheless “revoked the license” for the extraction of sand from the company that was developing on the disappearing Bakalska spit in the Crimea. However, as the “head of the Republic of Crimea” Sergey Aksyonov told to the “reporters”, work at the field did not stop there. It is noteworthy that the “documents for the extraction of sand” were allegedly classified as “secret ones”. Someone very cunning and well connected with the Russian government tried to hide behind the imperfection of the procedure. However, despite the fact that even the damage calculated by the invaders amounted to 52 million rubles, “criminal proceedings” in Crimea were in no hurry to open. Therefore, the sand extraction vessels belonging to the company “Ekoyuzhgeorazvedka” continued to ply [13].

Earlier, the “Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources” of the “Republic of Crimea” Gennady Narayev reported that “he saw no reason to ban the extraction of sand on the Bakalska Spit” [14]. Later “the reasons appeared”. However it will not save the Spit, which has turned into an island in five years of industrial sand mining. The consequences of the predatory extraction of sand are already beginning to hit the occupiers themselves. Until 2019, a propaganda youth forum “Tavrida” was held on the Bakalska Spit, and the year before last it was forced to move to the Sudak region.

Inhabitants of the Western Crimea began to actively oppose sand mining at Donuzlav Lake. Environmentalists say that the industrial exploitation of natural resources in such volumes leads to the erosion of beaches, and together with the sand, silt, saturated with hydrogen sulfide, rises from the bottom of the lake, which destroys all living things. For example, the population of the Red Book crab has already been affected. But the mining companies – there are four of them today – unanimously assure that there is supposedly no danger, and that cheap sand, compared to Russian one, is necessary for the needs of the peninsula [15].

Sand mining in the central part of the South-Eastern section of the Donuzlavske field is currently being mined by LLC “Simstroytrans”. The company is associated with a famous scandal. In 2015, Nikolay Kochanov, “head of the department of the Federal Tax Inspectorate in Crimea,” was detained while trying to bribe an “FSB officer” who, for 300 thousand rubles, was supposed to hide “violations revealed during the prosecutor’s audit” regarding “Simstroytrans”. At that time, the company was actively developing the Bagerovsky quarry and exported one ton of sand per day without “permits”. Kochanov “sat down for a long time,” but no “criminal cases” were initiated against the mining company, but enterprise`s bosses were “fined” a million rubles [5]. The “state unitary enterprise” “Crimean seaports” is also eager to get involved in the extraction of sand, since last year a “tender” was announced to search for a vessel suitable for these purposes. It was planned that it would work around the clock and extract 50 thousand tons of sand per day or 600 thousand tons per year (400 thousand cubic meters).

According to the “tender documents”, the vessel was intended to be used for “extraction and movement of sand in the Donuzlav Lake quarry” on the basis of a “license for the right to use subsoil resources”. The work of the vessel was supposed to ensure uninterrupted development of a sand pit within the boundaries of the “Mining allotment” at the “Donuzlavske deposit of construction sands” from a depth of up to 12 meters. However, the “tender” ended in nothing, “only one application was received” for it, and it was “declared as invalid one” [16]. Crimean ecologists are also sounding the alarm. “If earlier the beaches in Yevpatoria reached a width of about 50 meters, now in many places – five meters. This is a catastrophe. It is stimulated not only by the extraction of sand, but also by the construction of shore protection structures, which are an obstacle to the free movement of sediments”, said Elena Vasechkina, a researcher at the “Marine Hydrophysical Institute” controlled by the invaders [14].

It comes to the point that the extraction of sand in the occupied Crimea is disguised as another activity. For example, in 2020, tons of topsoil were removed on the outskirts of the village of Nizhny Oreshniky located in the Belogorsk District. These activities were carried out around the clock, which caused concern among local residents. The entrepreneur, who owns part of the plots near Nizhny Oreshniky, allegedly prepared a pit for a fish pond and managed to clear forty hectares of the area from the fertile layer. Initially, he stated that “low-fertile soil” was being exported, and that it would “be returned after enrichment”. But as it turned out later, the entrepreneur was not going to enrich the soil, but himself. Under the guise of building ponds, an enterprising “fisherman” carried out mining operations [17].

Other “sand kings” decided in advance to “butter up” the local residents in Mazanka, promising to improve the infrastructure of the village, but in the end they were greedy and attracted undue attention. When the company was just starting mining, its management promised to repair roads, lay a water supply system and build a feldsher-midwife station in the settlement. Instead of ten hectares, which were “bought by the company,” almost thirty were actually exploited. And when sand and gravel began to be scooped up practically from people in their gardens, a “check was initiated”. Subsequently, the private enterprise was “forbidden to develop the site,” but the work continued under the pretext of “processing already extracted raw materials” [18]. Anastasya Fedorova, a resident of Lesnoselya, assures that in Mazanka “out of the 190 people indicated in the documents, only 17 villagers gave permission, and that half of them are not local residents” [5]. Obviously there was initially someone from the “administration of the Mazanka rural settlement”, in collusion with the entrepreneur without whose help such a scam could not have been carried out.

Crimean “subsoil users” have mastered another scheme of mining – when work is carried out under the guise of reclamation of previously disturbed lands. In August, the “inspectors of the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources” together with the punishers of the “Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Crimea” carried out the “control and supervisory measures” and naturally “revealed numerous violations of the requirements of environmental legislation” in the work of certain business structure. The entrepreneur was supposed to “carry out work on the recultivation of an abandoned quarry” located in the area of the village of Peredove, Simferopol District, but in fact it was mining solid minerals for a long time “without the necessary permits” [19]. We must note that in fact, dozens of open pits are being “recultivated” in this way in the Crimea.

In case when the idea of “recultivation” does not work, the Russian invaders have prepared another scheme, covering it with the canopy of their urgent problem, the lack of water. As the Russia-controlled website “RIA Novosti Crimea” previously reported, Ilya Nykolenko, the “head of the Department of Water Supply, Wastewater Disposal and Sanitary Engineering of the Academy of Construction and Architecture of the Crimean Federal University”, suggested to use the abandoned quarries as reservoirs or water storages. In addition, he noted that “in the East of Crimea there are reservoirs that are not currently used” [20].

“In the Crimea, the average water shortage is about 150 million cubic meters, which means that additional fresh water storage facilities are needed on the peninsula. They can be the pits of worked-out and abandoned quarries,” Ilya Nykolenko believes [21]. In such a section, the transformation of the Crimea into a crater-covered surface of the Moon acquires a logical meaning. The Russian invaders just need more holes for the accumulation of atmospheric precipitation, and they are still successfully coping with this matter. Sand in the Crimea can be mined right in the middle of the field, as it happened in 2018 near the settlements of Belinske and Zolote. And an entire mountain, previously towering near the village of Kholodovka, can be destroyed for the extraction of crushed stone. According to “UNCG”, the Russian invaders’ illegal mining activities are so extensive that the resulting changes in relief are visible even from space [4].

In 2018, environmentalists noticed that special equipment was extracting sand from an industrial waste storage bin. During the Soviet era, they were buried on the territory of the Kerch iron ore plant. This sand was then used for the construction of the “Tavrida highway” and access roads to the “Kerch bridge”. According to experts, about a million cubic meters of toxic sand have already been removed from the former chemical burial ground. And although, due to publicity, they seem to have stopped digging the sludge, but according to ecologists, the extraction was still not stopped, but only the technology was changed: they began to rake the poisonous sand out of the water, and not dig from the shaft, as it was before [4].

But this only temporarily postponed the disaster. The other day, after the extraction of sand from the Plavni tract on the territory of the Nizhne-Churbashensky tailing dump, a part of the dam collapsed, preventing waste from entering the Sea of Azov. And now the discharge after washing the sand takes place directly into the channel connected to the sea. Thus, all the mud from washing the sand goes to the Kerch town beach [22]. Previous analysis showed that the amount of arsenic in the waste of the Kamysh-Burunsky iron ore plant exceeds the maximum permissible concentration by 500 times, the content of antimony – three times, vanadium – 3.5 times, chromium – 1420 times, phosphorus and iron – 341 and 370 times, respectively [23]. But despite the constant objections of environmentalists, illegal sand mining continues.

Thus, for the sake of completing the construction projects started in the Russia-controlled Crimea, the aggressor country and the “officials”, appointed by the Kremlin are ready to do anything: the destruction of cultural values and a unique natural ecosystem, the elimination of geographical objects, the use of toxic materials, deception of the local population, registration, forgery and violation of their own “environmental standards”. It’s hard to imagine what else they had in reserve in case these plans didn’t work.