War, apart from its essential barbarity and destructiveness, can also wreak massive environmental damage when large industrial plants or infrastructure are targeted. In August last year, the whole of Europe shuddered after the Russian army seized one of the region's largest nuclear power plants near Zaporozhye, unleashing fears of a nuclear disaster.
And now, after the 6 June breach of the wall of the Novaya Kakhovka dam in the Russian-controlled part of Kherson Oblast, there is a new reason to be wary. The flooding caused by the dam collapse could well trigger one of the biggest environmental and industrial disasters in Europe for decades.
The floods turned the Black Sea coast near Odessa, where the Dnieper Delta is located, into "a garbage dump and animal graveyard," according to the Ukrainian local authorities. What is more, this area is now an unpredictable minefield because of the large amount of explosives and other munitions that were first washed out to sea and then washed back ashore.
The Ukrainian Interior Ministry warns that the garbage and toxic substances carried by the flooding have already affected aquaculture around the first impact zone. "The concentration of harmful substances in the water samples is 10 times above the maximum permissible," says the head of the regional military department in Odessa, Oleksandr Prokudin.
The pollution is now leaving the Gulf of Odessa and slowly spreading along Ukraine's coast. And this, of course, worries Romania and Bulgaria: the summer season on the two countries' Black Sea coasts has begun, and waters filled with sediment, garbage, fuel oil and it's unclear what other toxins might scare off the already reluctant tourists, who fear the proximity of the area to the warzone.
So, if you've already planned your summer holidays on the Bulgarian seaside, should you be wary of the Kakhovka incident impact on the coast? Fortunately, there is no need to panic - at least for the time being, with Bulgarian shores staying well out of reach of the pollution for now. Still, the threat is not to be underestimated - at some point it will reach our coast, experts and scientists believe, but the hope is that this will happen slowly and the concentration will be low by then. In short - don't cancel your holidays to Sunny Beach and Golden Sands just yet!
Don't panic, no pollution inbound
The intensified monitoring, which Environment Minister Julian Popov ordered on 8 June in connection with the incident, shows that there is no evidence of pollution on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast at this stage and no exceedances have been detected in any of the tested indicators - petroleum products, metals, radionuclides caesium-137 and tritium, the Ministry of Environment and Water said during the weekend.
The Black Sea Region Basin Directorate (BSRB) - Varna, which has been regularly monitoring changes in the quality of Black Sea water since the beginning of the war, also confirmed this. The situation in Romania's Black Sea basin is similar, at least at this point, local authorities say.
But also don't underestimate the risk
This does not mean one should not remain vigilant. The Director of the Institute of Oceanology at the Bulgarian Academy of Science (BAS), Nikolay Valchev, told Capital weekly that the effect of pollution will be felt eventually, although the impact will be greater for Bulgaria's northern neighbor. "The circulation cell, which until now held the pollution in the Gulf of Odessa, has broken down and it is starting to spread along the coast of Ukraine. So far it has reached the town of Ilyichovsk, not far from Odessa," said Prof Valchev, adding that "the pollution slick itself continues to move into the coastal area." There are still hurdles to cross before it reaches Bulgarian aquatic borders, but it will inevitably happen.
"I can't predict when exactly this would happen, but it will happen slowly and most likely by then most of the contaminants will be at low enough concentrations not to be harmful. It is more important, however, to be aware of the consistency of this pollution - whether it is radioactive substances or toxic fertilizers, biogenic elements, thermogenic substances or something else, says Prof Valchev.
The Institute of Oceanology at BAS expects that their Ukrainian and Romanian colleagues will make the appropriate measurements of seawater chemistry "so that we are aware of what we are up against when the polluted waters reach the Bulgarian coast".
More bad timing for the summer season
The war in Ukraine has generally had a bad effect on Bulgarian tourism, deterring some Western holidaymakers. Now, the flooding of Kakhovka may also have an impact on the summer season, although the real risks are so far quite small. According to representatives of the Association of Inbound Tourism Agencies (AIA), quoted by the TravelNews website, foreign tour operators are already asking about the water quality on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. They want the Bulgarian Ministry of Tourism to start publishing constant up-to-date information in Bulgarian and English about water quality on its website.
Some eco-activists, for their part, share concerns on social media that water pollution could lead to excessive algae blooms. This could also make the sea less attractive for bathing.
To sum up: there are no immediate dangers inbound, so also no need to cancel your holiday. Yet, one should remain vigilant and follow the news for potential negative changes before leaving for the Bulgarian Black Sea coast.