A controversial Czech Republic lawmaker this week announced plans for “an international group of scientists (to be) created in the Czech Republic…to prevent the Crimean Peninsula from turning into a desert”, in defiance of European Union (EU) sanctions associated with Russia’s 2014 military occupation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.
Under the headline “Czech Republic Stands Up to the EU, Helps Crimea Amid Water Shortage”, Russian state media outlet Sputnik News June 20th carried a story quoting Jaroslav Holik, deputy chairman of the Czech Lower House's Environmental Protection Committee describing “creation of an international group on irrigating Crimea, which still lacks a sizable supply of fresh water for agriculture”.
Holik is a Member of Parliament (MP) for the far right, anti-EU Czech “Freedom and Direct Democracy” Party which has links with France’s National Front party headed by Marine Le Pen.
In March 2017 Holik was barred from entering Ukraine for five years after attending ceremonies in Crimea celebrating the third anniversary of the Russian occupation.
The MP is reported as saying that when visiting Crimea in the spring of this year, “he discovered that the floodgates of the canal providing water from the Dnieper River had been blocked. This water had been used to irrigate the fields of Crimea's north and central regions”.
"Crimeans are currently badly in need of fresh water, which is why they've given up growing rice, which requires intensive irrigation," Holik said, adding that Czech irrigators could help Crimea “in the same way they rendered assistance to Israel”.
"There are specialists in Russia, the Czech Republic and Israel whose joint efforts could add to resolving the problem of supplying water and irrigation to Crimea so as to stop it from becoming another desert," Holik told the Russian state news agency, adding that a Crimean delegation of specialists, entrepreneurs and politicians will visit Prague this autumn "to discuss all the details and define specific terms" related to the group.
In March this year the Council of the EU prolonged, at least until September 2017, restrictive measures “over actions undermining or threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine”, extending measures initially undertaken in 2014 as a response to Russia’s intervention in the country.
Asked about whether Czech experts would fear being affected by EU sanctions when working in Crimea, Jaroslav Holik said that he does not “care about this question."
In other Ukraine news, the United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF) last week warned that at least 750,000 children are at imminent risk of being cut off from safe drinking water in the country.
“Nearly three million people in eastern Ukraine rely on water infrastructure that is now in the line of fire,” said Afshan Khan, UNICEF's Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia, noting last week that more families are expected to be cut off from safe drinking water, putting children at severe risk of disease and other dangers.
About 400,000 people, including 104,000 children, had their drinking water cut off for four days last week after two filtration stations for the South Donbass Water pipeline were recently destroyed by shelling.
In Donetsk, power lines providing electricity to the city's water filtration station “were damaged earlier this month, threatening more than 1 million people's access to safe water”.
“All sides of the conflict must allow urgent repairs when water sources are destroyed and immediately stop the indiscriminate shelling of vital civilian infrastructure,” said Khan.
In 2017, UNICEF is appealing for $31.3 million to provide health and nutrition support, education, clean water, hygiene and sanitation as well as protection for children and families affected by the conflict in eastern Ukraine. The appeal has received about $9.9 million, still $21.4 million short of the target.
Almost 10,000 people have died in the conflict in Ukraine which began in 2014 when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and pro-Russian rebels launched an insurgency in the east.