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Russian forces destroy Kakhovka dam, triggering humanitarian disaster

by Olena Goncharova and Francis Farrell June 6, 2023 7:08 AM 3 min read
An image shows the damage to the destroyed Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant in Kherson Oblast on the morning of June 6, 2023. (Energoatom)
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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 that Russian forces blew up the dam.

Video footage widely spread on social media clearly shows a major breach in the section of the dam closest to the Russian-occupied eastern bank of the river.  According to a resident of a nearby settlement cited by Ukrainska Pravda, there was a single explosion, after which the dam "collapsed like a house of cards."

Ukraine's national police have called for the residents of 10 villages alongside the bank of the Dnipro River to evacuate, as well as part of Kherson city itself.

In the hours after the explosion, floodwaters quickly began to hit settlements downstream from the dam. At 9 a.m., Kherson Oblast Governor Oleksandr Prokudin reported that the villages of Tiahinka, Lvove, Odradokamianka, Ivanivka, Mykilske, Tokarivka, Poniativka, Bilozerka, and the  Ostriv district in Kherson were "fully or partially flooded."

Speaking to Ukrainska Pravda, Volodymyr Kovalenko, the exiled mayor of the occupied city of Nova Kakhovka adjacent to the dam, reported that Russian forces had also blown up the machine hall of the plant, and that the city was experiencing significant flooding.

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Destroyed dam of the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant in Kherson Oblast after Russian forces blew it up on the morning of June 6, 2023. (Lachentyt/Telegram)

The Moscow-installed official in the city of Nova Kakhovka in the Russian-occupied parts of Kherson Oblast initially denied that the dam had been completely destroyed.

"Everything is quiet and calm, there is nothing at all," RIA Novosti, one of Russia's state-owned news agencies, cited the mayor, Vladimir Leontiev, as saying. He later said that only "the upper part of the power plant" had been damaged, but the dam itself was intact. Leontiev later claimed that the dam was destroyed by Ukrainian shelling.

Built in 1956, the power plant was a crucial component of Ukraine's energy infrastructure. According to the country's state hydroelectric power agency, the damage caused by the breach is "impossible to repair."

"The destruction of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant dam only confirms for the whole world that they (Russians) must be expelled from every corner of Ukrainian land," wrote Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Twitter in response to the attack.

Zelensky also called an emergency meeting of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, according to the council's head Oleksii Danilov.

"Not a single meter should be left to them because they use every meter for terror. It’s only Ukraine's victory that will return security."

In November 2022, Zelensky had said that any attempt by Russian forces to blow up the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant, flooding Ukrainian territory and dewatering the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant would mean that Russia is “declaring war on the whole world.”

Zelensky's warning then came after General Sergey Surovikin, head of Russian forces in Ukraine, said Kyiv planned to flood the area below the Kakhovka power plant.

On Oct. 22, the Institute for the Study of War reported that Russia would likely try to blow up the dam at the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant to cover its withdrawal and "prevent Ukraine's forces from pursuing Russian forces deeper into Russian-occupied Kherson Oblast."

The destruction of the dam looks also to have serious consequences upstream, for settlements along the large Kakhovka Reservoir that will now be drained out.

According to Ukrainian state nuclear energy agency Energoatom, the explosion further endangers the safety situation at the occupied Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, which relies on water from the reservoir to provide power for the turbine condensers of the plant.

The Kakhovka hydroelectric plant in southern Ukraine was captured in the initial push of Russia's 2022 invasion. It has strategic importance, supplying the Russian-annexed Crimean peninsula with water. Located on the Dnipro River, the dam is one of the biggest facilities of its kind in Ukraine.

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