With the 2014 annexation of Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula has witnessed both the arrival of Russian troops and the spread of Russian environmental degradation.

The much-loved 200-year-old Foros Park is being illegally developed and ecologically destroyed, yet local police seem more eager to defend the site from protesters than the construction moguls responsible, as Novaya Gazeta correspondent Nadezhda Isaeva recently reported.

Work is underway on land surrounding a sanitorium, with buildings of up to nine stories being constructed and an unknown number of trees being cut down in what has long been regarded as an ecological jewel. Lebanese cedars, magnolias, and juniper trees are among those that have fallen to the chainsaw.

During recent protests against construction work at Foros (local officials say the development is a children’s park), around 100 people showed up to engage in discussions about its future. However, local authorities deployed some 30 uniformed policemen and 20 plain-clothes officers. Many protesters were subsequently arrested.

“We were kept in a cold basement for about two hours,” one of the detainees told Isaeva. “Four people fell ill; some were even laid up with a fever. I am 60 years old, I am hypertensive, I felt unwell, but the police refused to even call a doctor from an outpatient clinic next door.”

Other local people who publicly stated their opposition to tree felling in the park were visited by law enforcement officers for “preventative conversations”, according to a regional report from March.

Some 40km west of Yalta, the gorgeous resort town comprises part of a region that was restricted to the general public during the Soviet era. The park and its surrounding areas were the preserve of the USSR’s ruling elite, the nomenklatura. Mikhail Gorbachev was captured in Zarya, a state villa in Foros during the 1991 coup attempt.

Founded in 1834 during the reign of Tsar Nicholas I, it is home to vegetation from around the globe, including Europe, Africa, and the Americas — with some 200 different species in total.

The protests have had some effect. Development was temporarily halted at the beginning of June, with the hiatus expected to last until September. The current Kremlin-proclaimed leader of Crimea, Sergey Aksyonov, made the order following an outcry from both locals and the international community.

The “construction project” is equivalent to obliterating one of the most beautiful natural jewels in the peninsula, in the eyes of local people.

Since the 2014 annexation of Crimea, Russian authorities have continually left their mark on the area. The prime regional attraction, the sanatorium, was reportedly sold to the Tatarstan Federation of Trade Unions in a rigged auction and is ultimately said to be owned by the state-owned oil company, Tatneft.

High-ranking bureaucrats have been purchasing significant swathes of the Crimean coast in recent years. While officials continue to claim that a children’s camp is being constructed, but locals believe that Foros Park is set to be turned into a massive residential area to cater to the wealthy, Isaeva wrote.

Rapid deforestation has been severe in Russia (as Novaya Gazeta has already recently documented). Now, it is fast becoming a new norm for the Ukrainian peninsula.

The Kremlin PR machine has now swung into action. State-controlled media have been attempting “green” publicity stunts related to the park, with Russian Duma deputy Natalya Poklonskaya recently inviting eco-activist Greta Thunberg to Foros Park

Crimea’s coastal regions have been a prime holiday destination and hotspot for high-end summer houses for over a century. After Ukrainian independence from Russia, the lucrative coastal region became engulfed by property wars. Since Russia’s annexation of the peninsula in 2014, the situation has deteriorated further. Another hotspot for construction and development is a protected area at Cape Meganom, on the peninsula’s southern coast.

“For the last two years, we have been just shouting: “Stop the development of Meganom! Despite this, construction steadily progresses,” one local activist told RFE/RL in December. “Is it really necessary to destroy the nature of an entire reserve?”

This past year has seen increased turbulence in and around Crimea. Flagrant corruption, aggressive raids on attractive business assets, a crackdown on Putin critics in the region, and the continuing persecution of Crimea’s indigenous people were among them. Additionally, Crimea has been experiencing a swathe of ecological issues since the Russian takeover, notably a drought. Land wars and mass evictions often aggravate the region’s environmental degradation.

This story is written by Aliide Naylor and is based on reporting by Nadezhda Isaeva for Novaya Gazeta. Russia, Explained is a weekly newsletter by the Russian independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta. Read the edition upon which this adaptation was based. Courtesy of the Russian Language News Exchange