Назад

Harm to family life from motorway pollution prompts better environmental protections

Grimkovskaya v. Ukraine |2011

Harm to family life from motorway pollution prompts better environmental protections

From intensive traffic, the walls cracked, houses collapsed. Food in the cities became poisonous. People began to get sick…

Klara Grishchenko, Natalya Grimkovskaya’s mother, quoted on Deutsche Welle, 2011

Background 

In 1998, local authorities decided to re-route a motorway through the quiet street where Natalya Grimkovskaya lived with her parents and young son. 

The family home soon became uninhabitable. Hundreds of lorries passed by every hour of the day. The air became thick with car fumes. Vibrations caused the furniture in the house to shake. Plaster fell off the ceiling and walls. 

When potholes began to form on the road, the local authorities filled them in with coal dust, which was then lifted into the air by passing cars.

Natalya’s young son started to suffer from frequent breathing problems. He was found to have high levels of copper and lead in his body. Doctors recommended that he should be resettled.

Complaints from local residents prompted the authorities to test pollution levels on the street. Experts found that car emissions were above safe standards. 

A court later gave little reasoning when it dismissed a civil claim lodged by Natalya’s mother, Klara, who wanted the government to resettle her family and compensate them for the damage to their house and health.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The European court ruled that the Ukrainian government had failed to carry out an environmental impact study before turning the street where Natalya and her family lived into a motorway. No efforts were made to reduce the road’s harmful impact. Natalya was excluded from the decision-making process. This was a violation of her rights.

Follow-up 

The street where Natalya and her family live is no longer a motorway. The air quality has returned to a normal level. The road has been repaired. 

In addition to the compensation given by the European court, the Ukrainian courts awarded Natalya a further sum in damages.

In 2017, a Law on Environmental Impact Assessment came into force in Ukraine. This gives regional administrations new powers and obligations to carry out environmental impact assessments of planned activities and allows the public to participate at an early stage of the decision-making process.