Tracking down major

Industrial polluters from space

Exploring  impacts of the largest industrial polluters on air quality in Ukraine

Air pollution

How much do you know about the air we breathe? Air pollution includes smoke, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, dust and anything else that is unhealthy for our life. Most of the pollutants in the air are the result of burning biomass (wood, plants) or fossil fuels (oil, coal and gas).

Air pollution in Ukraine 

Higher air pollution in Ukraine is  linked to country’s largest urban areas and industrial sites  such as metallurgical, coke, petrochemical industries, heavy engineering and metal processing.

Let's take a closer look

Largest polluters

The top polluters from national statistics were analyzed. Most of them being power stations, steel production facilities or large manufactures.

20 km buffer zone

To understand the context of the area where the industry is located, we have analyzed 20 km zones around the industry site.

Satellite monitoring

Satellite data form the Copernicus Sentinel 5p satellite monitoring emissions of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and carbon monoxide (CO) were used.

TOP 3 polluters

Illich Steel & Iron Works

Illich Iron & Steel Works is the largest polluter and the second largest metallurgical enterprise in Ukraine. It is located in the port city of Mariupol'. More than 60 000 workers of the company produce steel for ship building, oil and gas pipelines, or water-pipes. The annual revenue of the company is about €2.5 billion. 

For a long time, the plant was named after the Communist leader Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. However, due to decommunization laws in Ukraine it was "renamed" in honour of the scientist Zot Illich Nekrasov in 2016. Because of this, Mariupol citizens sometimes call it "Plant after not-that-Illich".

It produces 226.608 Kt of emissions annually, according to national statistics.  

The Illich Steel and Iron Works company produces multiple air pollutants from the iron and steel industry. Due to the fact that the steel industry in Mariupol is a key sector of this country, local people have breathed one of the dirtiest airs in Ukraine for a long time. Whether it is nitrogen dioxide, particular matter or sulfur oxides, the air in Mariupol reaches the highest values in the whole country.

For several years, people have called that the Metinvest Group should modernize the filtration systems on its steel plants. According to locals, the smog hangs often over the plant and clouds of smoke over the plant with an orange glow can be seen during nights.

Carbon monoxide is considered one of the most dangerous gases formed in the blast furnace during the smelting process. Significantly higher levels of CO and NO2 in our analysis are visible in the interactive graphs below. However, the higher levels are also caused by other polluters in Mariupol and cannot be attributed only to the Illich Iron & Steel Works. 

Kryvyi Rih

Rich deposits of iron ore in the region have led to the construction of integrated mining and steel plants, alongside with the construction of Kryvyi Rih railway in the 19th century. Formally known as Kryvorizhstal, the company became part of the ArcelorMittal consortium in 2005. 

In 2018, the Security Service of Ukraine opened a criminal investigation against the steel manufacturer ArcelorMittal due to air pollution in Kryvyi Rih. 

The company is the largest steel manufacturer of both rebar and wire rod in Ukraine. The plant produces around 6 Mt of crude steel, 5 Mt of rolled products and 5.5 Mt of hot metal annually. It employs around 20 000 people.

It produces 208.233 Kt of emissions annually, according to national statistics. 

During the spring COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the company reduced steel shipments by 23.7% and the period resulted into one of the most economically difficult situations in the company’s history.

Based on our analysis, NO2 and CO concentrations within the radius of 20 km around the factory are higher than Ukraine's average in all seasons. In winter months, NO2 concentrations reach up twice the average in the whole country.

ArcelorMittal is not the only source of pollution in the region, but it significantly contributes to the overall poor air quality. 

Burshtyn Thermal Power Plant

It is hard to miss the local thermal power plant while visiting the town of Burshtyn in Ivano-Frankivsk region. The two largest flue gas stacks are 250 meters tall and they are visible from a great distance.

The plant burns coal from domestic coal basins, and auxiliary natural gas and fuel oil with the overall installed capacity of 2334 MW.

A part of the power plant produces electricity for export, due to a suitable location at the intersection of the power lines connecting Ukraine with Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia. It is part of the effort to integrate Ukrainian and European power grids.

The power plant produces 182.922 Kt of emissions annually, according to national statistics.  

Since 2012, DTEK has invested over $180 million in overhaul and upgrade of equipment at the units of this power plant.

The power plant is located in the Ivano-Frankivsk region. Together with the city of Ivano-Frankivsk, it represents a major pollution source in the overall low pollution region. As you can see in the graph below, nitrogen dioxide emissions around the plant are well above the national average for the most of the year. Sometimes it reaches almost double levels. Low values during the summer are caused mostly by environmental factors, such as wind or good dispersion conditions. 

Two interesting places

Ladyzhyn thermal power plant

On the outskirts of the small town of Ladyzhyn, which is inhabited by less than 25 000 people, the Ladyzhyn thermal power plant is located.

Although it is one of the areas with low population density and insignificant industry, higher NO2 concentrations were detected. The rise of pollution can be seen from space as a hotspot over Ladyzhyn city, lying in the middle of the area with relatively low concentration.

The power plant belongs among the seven largest thermal power plants in Ukraine and its impact on air pollution is therefore not negligible. 


Zaporizhzhia thermal power plant


The Zaporizhzhia thermal power station, located at Enerhoda near the Zaporizhia Nuclear Power Station, is considered to be the largest thermal power plant in Ukraine.

Due to one of the tallest free-standing flue-gas stacks (320 m tall) in Ukraine the power plant cannot be overlooked.

It has an installed capacity of 3600 MW, however, only a capacity of 1,255 MW is currently in use.

NO2 concentrations above the power plant reach similar concentrations as in large urban areas, as seen in the illustration and the interactive graph. 

Based on our analysis, we can confirm that the
major polluters in Ukraine are recognizable from space.

What can governments do?

Policies supporting the improvement of air quality should focus on four key areas:  

Tax pollution, not people
No subsidizing fossil fuels
No new coal plants
Focus on green economy

Do you want to explore more data? Check our web application below. It enables you to check concentrations of different air pollutants across Moldova during the last 2 to 3 years from the Sentinel 5P satellite and the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service.

About the project

This story is based on the "COVID-19 Impact on Air Quality in Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova", a study realized by World from Space for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) within the European Space Agency EO clinic framework in 2020.

The study contains modified Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service data [2017-2020] and modified Copernicus Sentinel data [2018-2020]. Maps contain data from © OpenStreetMap contributors (

The photos used on this page come from the European Space Agency, Unsplash, Piaxabay and Wikimedia Commons galleries. 

DATE:  September 16, 2020

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