Skip to content
Edit post

What are the consequences of the Kakhovka dam’s demolition?

by Igor Kossov June 6, 2023 4:14 PM 6 min read
A photo posted on Telegram on June 6, 2023, by Roman Mrochko, head of the Kherson City Military Administration, shows flooding after the Kakhovka dam explosion.
This audio is created with AI assistance

Support independent journalism in Ukraine. Join us in this fight.

Become a member Support us just once

The destruction of the Kakhovka dam can lead to serious humanitarian, ecological, economic, military, and legal consequences.

The demolition was carried out by Russian forces in southern Ukraine in the early hours of June 6.  And it’s among the most dramatic violations of the Geneva Conventions in recent decades.

The sudden release of 18 cubic kilometers of water, about the volume of the Great Salt Lake in the U.S., will sweep the Dnipro River’s banks and tributaries downstream, threatening 80 settlements with flooding, including part of the city of Kherson and much of the eastern bank of the Dnipro, which is occupied by Russia.

About 16,000 people are reportedly in a critical flood zone, but hundreds of thousands could be affected in some way.

The water levels in the Inhulets and Buh rivers will rise, and the floodwaters will likely drown the land around the Dnipro’s delta, according to an earlier projection by Swedish consultancy Dämningsverket.

Oleksandr Prokudin, the head of the Kherson Oblast Military Administration, said evacuations are underway.

Besides direct water damage to homes, land, and enterprises, the flooding can pick up dangerous chemicals from where they’re stored on land, distributing them over a wide area and into the Black Sea, said Oleh Savitskyi, an ecological expert with the nonprofit Razom We Stand.  

The State Emergency Service urged civilians in Kherson Oblast to remain vigilant of landmines dislodged by flooding after Russian forces blew up the dam.

Other areas can lose their main water supply for a very long time. This includes occupied Crimea, which relied on rerouted water from the Dnipro through the reservoir. This will wreck large tracts of agriculture on the mainland and the peninsula.

For example, vegetable growers in the region will lose 20,000 hectares of productive land, according to agricultural consulting firm Agroanalysis. Its director, Vadym Dudka, said that this pushed back the restoration of Kherson Oblast's vegetable production by five years.

It will also force important industries, like metallurgical plants, to grind to a halt in multiple cities because they need uninterrupted access to water.

Russian forces destroy Kakhovka dam, triggering humanitarian disaster
The dam of the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant across the Dnipro River, occupied by Russian forces, was destroyed on the morning of June 6, sparking a large-scale humanitarian and environmental disaster across southern Ukraine. Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command reported early in the morning…

The hydrological regime of Ukraine’s main river, Dnipro, will be reshaped, causing unpredictable and possibly dangerous changes for people and other life forms living in the regions that it flows through. Many fish, birds and aquatic animals may be subjected to death or habitat loss.

Vitaliy Selyk, cofounder of the volunteer group Smilyvi Vidnovliuvaty (Brave to Rebuild) said that waterlogging of drained lands and conversely, the exposure of sandy river bottom will cause climate changes, such as dust storms, changes in precipitation, a rise in temperature and more frequent droughts in the south.

Nuclear danger

A plunge in the reservoir’s water level also threatens to cut off critical water supplies to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, the largest nuclear plant in Europe. Its reactors are off but they still need water to cool the fuel in their cores. Cooling pools for spent fuel and for new fuel waiting to be loaded into reactors also require circulating water.

The plant has a dedicated cooling pond but if something happens to it, it risks causing a nuclear catastrophe larger than Chornobyl.

Energoatom, the state nuclear company, said that for now, the plant has enough water and the Ukrainian workers are monitoring the situation. The International Atomic Energy Agency stated that for now, they don't see an immediate risk to the plant and the pond can supply the plant’s need for “some months.”

Energy supply

Because the damage to the hydroelectric plant appears to be beyond repair (the explosions took out the plant’s engine room), Ukraine has lost an important and flexible power source, making the grid tougher to operate. The cost of rebuilding it will be very high.

The plant had a capacity of 357 Megawatts, producing 1.4 Terawatt-hours per year. It was also profitable, bringing Hr 44 million ($1.2 million) to the national budget and Hr 6.1 million ($167,000) to local budgets in 2019.

Former Energy Minister Ivan Plachkov told the media that the destruction will lead to problems with water and energy supply infrastructure, with distribution networks, substations and power lines facing submersion.

In the meantime, Ukraine may have to burn more fossil fuels to produce energy or balance out the swings in the system, compounding the economic and environmental cost.


The destruction may also, for a time, complicate Ukraine’s counteroffensive plans. The Russians are trying to slow down Ukrainian tempo, said Serhiy Zgurets, director of the consulting company Defense Express.

Firstly, the dam’s destruction drops a massive problem into the Ukrainian government’s lap, forcing it to use resources to mitigate the damage instead of pouring its effort into counterattacking Russia. Secondly, it eliminates a key crossing point over the river.

The breadth of the waterlogged areas will make it harder for Ukrainian special forces, such as airborne troops, to do damage to Russia’s “Dnipro Grouping of Forces” as the Kremlin has referred to it. That may leave this grouping free to strike at the flank of a possible Ukrainian attack force in Zaporizhzhia Oblast, Zgurets said.

However, he echoed the words of Ukraine’s head of intelligence, Kyrylo Budanov, in saying that this would only slow Ukrainians down by a maximum of two weeks.

Russia reports Ukrainian ground attacks in Donetsk Oblast in possible launch of counteroffensive
In the early hours of June 5, the first announcement of what looks like it could be the start of a large-scale Ukrainian counteroffensive came from an unusual source. At 1:31 a.m. Kyiv time, the Russian Defense Ministry, which famously floundered in silence in response to Ukraine’s


Early reactions by Western leaders blamed Russia for the dam’s destruction.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg called it "an outrageous act" demonstrating Russia's brutality. European Commission President Charlels Michel said Russia would be held accountable.

The Geneva Convention states that “Works and installations containing dangerous forces, namely dams, dykes and nuclear electrical generating stations, shall not be made the object of attack, even where these objects are military objectives, if such attack may cause the release of dangerous forces and consequent severe losses among the civilian population.”

However, this is not the first time Russia has violated the Geneva Convention since the full-scale invasion began. Moscow does not acknowledge the International Criminal Court, which issued an arrest warrant against Russian leader Vladimir Putin in March.

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry called on the G7 countries and the EU to consider more sanctions on Russia in response to its "technogenic and ecological terrorism," saying "this is Kremlin's answer to countries calling for peaceful talks with the Russian Federation."   The statement called for sanctions on Russia's rocket and nuclear industries.

This Week in Ukraine Ep. 4 – Russia’s strategy of evil: 80,000 war crimes in Ukraine
“This Week in Ukraine” is a video podcast hosted by the Kyiv Independent’s reporter Anastasiia Lapatina. Every week, Anastasiia sits down with her newsroom colleagues to discuss Ukraine’s most pressing issues. Episode #4 is dedicated to Russian war crimes in Ukraine and beyond, the culture of viole…
Support independent journalism in Ukraine. Join us in this fight.
Freedom can be costly. Both Ukraine and its journalists are paying a high price for their independence. Support independent journalism in its darkest hour. Support us for as little as $1, and it only takes a minute.
visa masterCard americanExpress

Editors' Picks

Enter your email to subscribe
Please, enter correct email address
* indicates required
* indicates required
* indicates required
* indicates required
* indicates required


* indicates required
* indicates required


* indicates required
* indicates required


* indicates required
Successfuly subscribed
Thank you for signing up for this newsletter. We’ve sent you a confirmation email.