Three years after the outbreak of conflict, Ukranian President Poroshenko’s decision to withdraw from the lines defending the city of Avdiyivka on October 22 leaves the future of water filtration systems in the region unclear. One particular water filtration system lies between the Russian-occupied city of Donetsk and the government-controlled city of Avdiyivka to the north. While both sides have cooperated in terms of repairing any damage caused by shelling or heavy mortar attacks, both sides refuse to cede territory for the sake of increased water protection. For the seventy-second Mechanized Brigade, also known as the Black Brigade, retreating from the water filtration site is an invitation for rebel forces to advance towards the key metropolis of Avdiyivka.
The threat posed to water filtration is one of many disruptions to critical infrastructure caused by continued conflict. In June of 2014 – six months after Russian President Vladimir Putin declared Crimea as a part of the Russian Federation – the Russian state-run gas company Gazprom shut off the supply of gas, citing Ukraine’s debt as its justification. A gas crisis erupted throughout Europe, where most Eastern countries rely on Russia for almost all of their natural gas. The EU receives 23 percent of its natural gas from Russia, and around 70 percent of gas supplied to EU countries runs through Ukraine’s pipelines. The EU intervened in a deal to resume service, and Western pressure has played a role in defusing hostilities between the two nations.
President Poroshenko’s peace proposal was met with unanimous support from Russia, Germany, France, and the United States in September 2014. Known as the Back to School Peace, the September ceasefire has been marginally successful in reducing the frequency of conflicts. However, as recently as this year, the disputed water station has shut down nearly a dozen times due to conflict-related damages. Suspension of service has the potential to devolve into a humanitarian crisis, as the station serves cities on either side of the frontline, including Avdiyivka’s population of 35,000 as well as Donetsk and Yasynuvata.
In addition to the immediate dangers of damaging the station, any significant damage to the chlorine tank would result in the contamination of soil and groundwater in the surrounding area, according to the Ukrainian Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources. In recognition of this particularly pressing threat, mortar usage has significantly decreased, as has activity around the station. Reports from the frontline reveal the relative cooling of the conflict, stating that the station has run smoothly for the last few months, with the last significant interruption of service due to damage in late August.