To cut it all

Russians destroyed over 60 thousand hectares of Ukrainian forests, estimated at over UAH 14 billion. publishes the proof of the ecocide and the map of the lost forests
08 April 2024

In March 2022, the Ukrainian intelligence service posted a remarkable document. As early as on March 4, less than ten days after the start of the invasion into Ukraine, Sergei Shoigu, the minister of defence of the RF, asked Putin for permission to cut forests in the interests of the occupying army without any restrictions. As per Shoigu, the timber was intended for the “fortification facilities” and sale. Of course, Putin gave his permission.

Ukrainian forests, along with grain, metals, coal, etc., became another loot for the occupants. Russians have been cutting the forests in the occupied territories on a large scale and destroying them by all the possible methods for more than two years now. In total, as per the estimate of the State Forest Resources Agency of Ukraine, during this period, almost 30% of all the Ukrainian forests has been damaged to some extent due to military actions і That amounts to about 3 million hectares. It should be noted that the estimate of the State Forest Resources Agency includes the occupied and liberated territories, the territories of the previous or current active combat activities, the territories which suffered from the rocket strikes and the consequences of being hit with Shahid drones, i.e., for instance, if a piece of the anti-missile rocket falls in some part of the forest, the entire forest is deemed to have been damaged. .

The analysis of, based on satellite images, demonstrates that in two years of the war, the Russians have completely destroyed over 60 thousand hectares of forests in the occupied territories – and mostly in places where the forests had been scarce before. You can view the detailed online map of practically deforested regions below.

According to the minimal estimate, the total cost of the lost forest exceeds UAH 14 billion – these are only the direct losses, i.e. the cost of the timber, which could have been received as a profit for over 60 thousand hectares. These losses do not include the ecological consequences, the elimination of which may be much more cost consuming.

How we did our math Згорнути
According to the data of the Global Land Analysis and Discovery (GLAD), the American research organization, regularly monitoring the planet’s forests using satellite imagery, in two recent years, the area of forests in the regions, occupied by the Russians (except for the Crimea) and at the immediate line of active combat, has reduced by 61,030 hectares. On average, 235 cubic meters of timber can be obtained from one hectare of forest (100 x 100 m). Obviously, the cost of different kinds of timber is considerably different, so we selected the timber that is cheap and most common in the regions that have suffered, – pine at the cost of UAH 1,000 per cubic meter. Therefore, the minimal estimated loss is UAH 14.34 billion.

Luhansk region

Prior to the war, the forests covered only 11% of the territory of Luhansk region. It is not much compared to the western part of Ukraine, where the forestation rate fluctuates within 30–50%. However, most of Luhansk region is the Steppe, and the forests have a very important function here – they save from sand storms, retain moisture, and inhibit soil erosion.

The satellite images of the forest territory in SE “Severodonetsk forest hunting range” and SE “Novoaidarsk forest hunting range” in September 2021 (on the left) and in 2023 (on the right), respectively. The picture of 2021 shows the brown pine forest, which partially suffered from the fire. In 2023, it is completely dry and destroyed by the shelling (the Plant Labs pictures).

“We can see that the forest is being destroyed by the military actions and fires. These forests were planted for the purpose of protection, to protect soils and population from the sand, which was spreading out into the fields. Now we see that the sands are open again. It is hard to see clear outlines of the cutting zones in the background of massive fires. Besides, they hardly cut forests in the way we used to do, leaving the plots of a regular form. We know that [the Russians] cut down the trees they want, without any logic and planning,” Volodymyr Yarotskyi, the research assistant of the national nature park “Kreminski lisy” [Kreminna forests], the expert of the NGO “Forest Initiatives and Society,” explains.

Russians attacked Severodonetsk since the beginning of the invasion and finally, in late June 2022, occupied this city, which used to have a hundred thousand residents.

As per Serhii Sezonenko, the head of the Severodonetsk forest hunting range, during the first two months, he stayed in the city as a volunteer. However, in April, the Ukrainian military asked all the civilians to leave the city.

“More than 100 people worked in our forest range; 60% stayed and now work for the occupants,” Serhii Sezonenko, the head of the Severodonetsk forest hunting range, who managed to escape from the occupied city, told “In the first months [of the occupation], I managed to get in touch with the game ranger sometimes when he was going into the forest, but now even this connection is lost. I know that one of our foresters vanished: he refused to speak Russian, was taken to Luhansk, and never came back.”

According to the data of the State Forest Resources Agency, since February 2022, 97 Ukrainian foresters have disappeared, and the death of 116 more foresters has been confirmed.

Mobile timber manufacturing complexes

In late December of last year, Mikhail Andronik, a Russian propaganda pundit and “war correspondent”, posted a video of the work of a military wood-sawing complex on his Telegram channel. “It gets set into motion in 2.5 hours. This [complex] belongs to the “Center” military group; it works in the Luhansk area. There are many dead-standing trees after combats. Everything is put to work,” Andronik wrote.

With the help of the experts of the NGO “Forest Initiatives and Society”, managed to identify the place of work of this mobile wood-sawing complex – it is the territory of the Severodonetsk forest hunting range. Serhii Sezonenko, the head of this forest range, confirmed that this forest looked familiar.

Gauging by the archive of weather data, Andronik’s video was shot not long before posting – approximately on December 9–15, 2023.

Some of the timber is obviously used by Russians to build the covered trenches and other defensive units. Yet some timber is openly put on sale by the occupied forest ranges.

In March, tried to buy some timber and wrote to several forest ranges, whose contact data were posted by the government of the self-proclaimed “LNR”. The correspondence shows that the forest ranges mostly sell pine, oak, and ash trees.

For instance, the abovementioned Severodonetsk forest hunting range sells one cubic meter of chopped pine firewood for RUR 3,000 (UAH 1,242) without the cost of the delivery. Instead, the Stanitsa-Luhansk forest range sells the same pine chopped firewood at the price of RUR 4,000 (UAH 1,650) per cubic meter, and it does not include the cost of the delivery і For comparison, in March, the Ukrainian state platform for the online purchase of chopped firewood, “DrovaYe”, offered one cubic meter of chopped pine firewood at a price starting with UAH 1,000. .

“Ivanivskyi forest range” і The village of Ivanivka is a member of Khrustalne city community in the south of Luhansk region. sells chopped oak firewood at RUR 5,350 (UAH 2,225) per cubic meter і For comparison, in March, the Ukrainian state platform for the online purchase of chopped firewood, “DrovaYe”, offered one cubic meter of chopped oak firewood at a price starting with UAH 2,300. .

Donetsk region

Uncontrolled cutting of forests and taking timber out did not escape the attention of the Ukrainian side – it was actively mentioned in the daily reports by the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and by the then deputy Minister of Defence, Hanna Maliar.

“In the last decade of March, there was intense movement along the highways in the area of Mariupol, Е105 і leading from the Crimea to Russia and М18 і connecting Kharkiv to Yalta , these were the lines of Russian trucks, loaded with freshly chopped round logs,” Maliar wrote in April of 2023. Judging by the routes of the trucks, the timber was mostly brought to the occupied Crimea.

The territory of SE “Kreminna forest hunting range” (Luhansk region bordering Donetsk region), where one can see natural forests (a green line below, near Siverskyi Donets River) and forest plots planted in square sections (the Planet Labs pictures).

“Along the centre of the destroyed forest, we can see a light protruded spot – this is the frontline, including the trenches and the marks for the craters from the explosions and shelling from both sides. Gray spots are the trunks of the trees, which burnt down or were fired upon. Pine forests protect our servicemen from shell fragments, but the [trees] lose their canopy and cannot be restored after that; they are like “matches”, sticking from the ground. Light territory shows us shelled sands, where pine forest is destroyed completely,” Volodymyr Yarotskyi, the research assistant of NPP “Kreminna Forests”, comments.

The expert says that green zones around the river are natural oak and alder damming forests, and the areas to the west and south are pine-birch and oak-pine forests. They are most likely mined, so military activities do not occur there.

The national nature park “Sviati Hory”, located in Kramatorsk and Bakhmut districts, is among the natural territories in Donetsk region that suffered the most. Combats have been going on in this territory since the beginning of the invasion; thus, 80% of the park has been destroyed.

NPP “Sviati Hory” in May 2023, after the liberation in October 2022. Not more than 20% of the forest survived after the shelling from the Russian army (a picture by Ivan Moisiienko)

NPP “Sviati Hory” in May 2023, after the liberation in October 2022. Not more than 20% of the forest survived after the shelling from the Russian army (a picture by Ivan Moisiienko)

“We went to the liberated territory of NPP “Sviati Hory” in May 2023. Practically, the entire forest has been mined. In some parts, the forest is badly damaged or even destroyed. Sadly, the ecosystems of pine forests on chalks have suffered the most; and they are unique і . They are under the protection of the Bern Convention. These are very peculiar ecosystems with their own flora. Such ecosystems are no longer present in Europe,” Ivan Moisiienko, the head of the Botany Chair at the Kherson State University, explained for

A pine, Pinus sylvestris var. cretacea Kalenich, which grows only in several places on the banks of Siverskyi Donets River in Ukraine, has been included in the international Red List as a vanishing species.

Kharkiv region

Forests cover less than 15% of the territory of Kharkiv region, and about 40–45% of them is currently mined or damaged by fires. Almost half of the region was occupied by the Russians in February-March of 2022, but in early September of the same year, it was liberated during the counteroffensive of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, except for a small area bordering Luhansk region and Russia.

“On February 24 [2022], all the employees of the Kupiansk forest range were informed that they didn’t have to go to work. Since the night we heard the shelling, and we knew that the Russian troops were coming through the forest,” Oleksandr Rybka, the head forester of SE “Kupiansk forest range”, told

In his words, the forest range didn’t work in the following two months, and in May, one ex-employee offered him to come back and start working for the Russians. Rybka refused and was hiding from the occupants for some time, while they were searching for him. Having realized that he had to flee, on September 10, he crossed the border with Russia, then went to Estonia, Latvia, and Poland, and came back to Ukraine. And on September 14, Kupiansk was liberated already.

“We renewed the work of the forest range in October, but even after a year and a half, we cannot estimate the scale of the destroyed forest because it is still mined. In the neighbouring Izium forest range, the largest in the region, there is active combat right inside the forest; we assume that a large part has burnt down there too,” says Oleksandr Rybka.

The forest of SE “Kupiansk forest range” is also seen in the satellite images of 2021 and 2023. According to the data of the online Deep State map of active combat, at present, 70% of this forest is controlled by the Russians, a small part in the south of the forest is under the control of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (the Planet Labs picture).

“This is the forest, divided by the line of combat fire. From autumn 2022 till autumn 2023, there were regular forest fires due to active combat. On the left, we can see a green stripe, stretching from the north to the south – these are swamp territories, which are most likely mined,” explains Oleksandr Rybka.

While hiding from the Russians in the occupied territory, Oleksandr Rybka saw the trucks, loaded with round logs and taking timber in an unknown direction, with his own eyes.

Ivan Maleiev, a 42-year-old collaborator

Ivan Maleiev, a 42-year-old collaborator

According to the materials of the criminal case, during the occupation, the Kupiansk forest range was headed by Ivan Maleiev, a 42-year-old local resident. Previously, he had not worked in the forest range at all, but the occupants appointed him the main engineer. On January 29, 2024, the Kharkiv court pronounced him guilty in absentia for his collaboration with the Russians, and a wanted notice for Maleiev was issued.

By the way, Maleiev didn’t merely work for the Russians; he was exceptionally loyal to the occupants. “The accused was driving a vehicle, a grey Niva Chevrolet, which was on the balance of SE “Kupiansk forest range” and had “z” marking,” says the sentence.

Kherson region

Kherson region is considered one of the least forested regions of Ukraine; prior to the war, the forest covered less than 5% of its territory. In 2022, almost the entire region was occupied. Obviously, it has led to considerable ecological losses.

According to the conclusions of the Global Forest Watch, an international organization monitoring the loss and gain of the forest using satellite images, for instance, the national nature park Oleshky Sands lost half of its protective forest barrier in several months. In the 1970s-80s, a line of forest, approximately 3.5 km wide, was planted around the famous sand area. In part, it was done to keep the sand in place and to prevent sandstorms. Local residents recollect that in the 1970s when there was no forest yet, their kitchen gardens could be covered with a half-meter layer of sand overnight.

Destroyed forests
View the most representative regions, or study the map on your own

Methodology. The online map of completely destroyed forests, elaborated by, is based on the data of GLAD і The Global Land Analysis and Discovery (GLAD) laboratory in the Department of Geographical Sciences at the University of Maryland , an American research organization, which has been regularly monitoring the planet’s forests using satellite imagery for over 20 years. The map presents the loss of the forest canopy only in 2022–2023.

“Unfortunately, we cannot estimate the losses accurately, but we can talk about the loss of unique territories and entire ecosystems,” explains Ivan Moisiienko, the head of the Botany Chair at the Kherson State University.

According to the data of Serhii Khlan, the deputy of the Kherson regional council, the Russians cut down the Oleshky forest to arrange their fortifications. In addition, Serhii Khlan stated that some logs were taken in the direction of Melitopol.

Much damage was done to the Chornomorskyi Biosphere Reserve, Askania Nova, the national parks Meotyda, Azov-Syvash, and Dzharylhach, in the territories of which the combat was active or the military machinery was passing.

In February 2023, Ihor Zhdaniuk, a farmer, headed the Chornomorskyi Biosphere Reserve, occupied by the Russians.

In February 2023, Ihor Zhdaniuk, a farmer, headed the Chornomorskyi Biosphere Reserve, occupied by the Russians.

Since the beginning of the occupation, the Russians have made some indicative personnel changes. For instance, a 58-year-old Ihor Zhdaniuk, a farmer previously cultivating berries in Kherson region, was appointed the director of the Chornomorskyi Biosphere Reserve – the largest nature reserve of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine.

“Since the beginning of the war, he supported the invasion, collaborated with the RF army, and promoted the ideas of the “Russian world”. Also, the suspect took part in the fake elections and became the deputy of the United Russia party in the temporarily occupied territories of Kherson region,” says the post of the SBI department in Melitopol.

As per the current employee of the Chornomorskyi Biosphere Reserve, who asked not to reveal his true identity for safety reasons, the Russians cut the burnt forest and take it to build their fortifications. For instance, according to his information, the Hladkivskyi forest has suffered dramatically from cutting.

The satellite pictures of 2021 and 2023, the territory of the Skadovsk district near the village of Vynohradne (the Planet Labs picture).

“At the bottom of the picture, the territory of the Chornomorskyi Biosphere Reserve starts. Above, where the pine plantations are, it is beyond the limits of the reserve. That’s where we see the consequences of massive cutting and fires. It is important that the picture shows the cutting of the forest that was not burnt,” the expert from the Chornomorskyi Biosphere Reserve concludes.

In addition to fires, shelling, and cutting, the forests of Kherson region were considerably damaged due to the demolition of the Kakhovska hydropower plant in June 2023. That’s when almost 55 thousand hectares of forests on the left bank of the Dnipro were flooded.

The satellite pictures for June 5 and 7, 2023 – a day before the demolition of the dam at the Kakhovka HPP and the day after the demolition. The picture shows the flooding of the Kozak island, which had a forest, meadows with plant species included in the Red List, and a sandy Steppe. This territory has plantings of pine trees, which grow well in dry places. In the flooded areas, the stagnant water has most likely provoked the development of root rot and changed the soil acidity, so many trees are destroyed (the Planet Labs picture).

“We don’t know how many trees have perished, but we can assume that many have. It is the Left-Bank territory where the giant oaks grow to be 3–5 meters in diameter. Most of them are located right up close to the retaining dam of the Dnipro. There is no doubt that they have been damaged,” Ivan Moisiienko from the Kherson State University concludes.

Consequences for ecology

As per experts, the loss of forests in the territory of the Steppe zone will have long-term consequences in terms of preserving biodiversity, water resources, and climate regulation. These include:

1) The drop in the level of ground water – forests retain water and prevent soil erosion.

2) The reduction in biodiversity – the loss of forests leads to the loss of the life environment for flora and fauna, which will cause their perishing or a decrease in the populations.

3) The deterioration of the air quality.

4) A higher risk of drying rivers and ponds.

5) A higher risk of fires – especially in the conditions of high temperatures and moisture shortage.

The EU countries reduce their export of timber from Russia

“Russia is one of the largest exporters of timber in the world. If the Ukrainian timber from the temporarily occupied territories gets to them, it compromises the entire market. Those who buy from Russia cannot be sure now that they haven’t bought the timber of illegal origin,” explains Dmytro Karabchuk, the founder and executive director of NGO “Forest Initiatives and Society”, a coordinator of the project “Combating Illegal Forest-Cutting in Ukraine”.

Before 2022, China, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Finland, and Germany were the largest buyers of Russian timber. After the invasion of Russia into Ukraine, the EU countries practically prohibited the import of Russian timber, which led to a drop in the total Russian timber export by 35%. As expected, the Russians explained this drop as “an internal decision which has nothing to do with the actions of the EU”. Now, the main buyers are Turkey, the UAE, Kyrgyzstan, Iran, South Korea, and China.

The author Mariana Verbovska, editor Oleh Onysko, the map and data analysis Nazar Tuziak, cover Rostyslav Abramets

This material was created with the financial support of the European Union. Project EU4IM, financed by the European Union, bears entire responsibility for its content. The content of the material belongs to the authors from and does not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.