Kakhovka dam’s destruction: facts and consequences

On June 06, an explosion at the Kakhovka dam caused severe flooding throughout the Dnieper estuary. As Russian and Ukrainian authorities deny responsibility for this act of war, estimates of material damage are approaching 1.5 billion dollars. These floods are the main cause of human, environmental but also military disruption which we will attempt to detail in this article.

On the morning of June 6, an explosion damaged the Kakhovka dam on the Dnieper. Built in 1956, the dam was 30 meters high and 3.2 kilometers long. The Kakhovka reservoir was the second largest in Ukraine in terms of surface area (2,155 km²) and the largest in terms of water volume (18.19 km³). The Russian and Ukrainian authorities blamed each other for the destruction, placing responsibility for the ongoing humanitarian disaster on the other side.

After a new Security and Defense Council meeting held the same day between Zelensky and his teams, the Ukrainian president declared: “The disaster at the Kakhovka hydroelectric power station caused by Russian terrorists will not stop Ukraine and Ukrainians. We will continue to liberate our entire territory”. Ukraine will take this act of war to the United Nations Security Council. For its part, Russia has also made a similar request to the Secretariat.

The authorities of the occupied Russian part of the Kherson oblast were the first to accuse the Ukrainians of having destroyed the dam by bombing it. This view was echoed by Vasily Nebenzya, the official representative of the Russian Federation at the United Nations, who insisted that the “Kiev regime” wanted to terrorize the population. On the Ukrainian side, the meeting of the Security Council of June 6, 2023 n°9340E, was reminded that it was physically impossible to undertake such an action, insisting on the fact that the Russian army had been in possession of the structure for more than a year.

A booby-trapped car installed by Russian forces could have been used to store explosives on the dam. This theory gained momentum after the publication of aerial photographs dated May 28th, showing a damaged vehicle parked on the dam. The tremors caused by the explosion, which occurred between half past two and three o’clock in the morning, were detected by seismic sensors in the Ukraine and Romania, and satellite images from US intelligence services reportedly detected a flash of heat production at this precise time.

Estimates of the value of the damage are now approaching 1.5 billion dollars. According to Ukrainian Environment Minister Ruslan Strilets, the water level still presents in the reservoir, far from the 16 meters normally recorded, has become critical for the survival of biodiversity. Oleksandr Prokudin, the Ukrainian governor of the Kherson oblast, declared on the morning of June 08 that the water had risen by 5.6 meters in the vicinity of Kherson.

In an article dated June 07, the United Nations reported that almost 17,000 people had been evacuated in one day. According to the TASS agency’s review of July 05th, 53 people had died, 41 of them on the Russian side, and 134 had been hospitalized on both sides. The official Russian authorities in the occupied territories have declared a state of emergency. Under normal circumstances, the Kakhovka dam provided drinking water for over 70,000 people, which explains why the Russian side is blaming the Ukrainian authorities for the disaster. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Ukraine, the level of the dam has fallen by almost 70%, causing shortages for the region’s inhabitants. The Russian authorities have been accused of blocking the arrival of humanitarian aid. According to Denise Brown, the UN’s humanitarian aid coordinator in Ukraine, “the government of the Russian Federation continues to refuse all requests for access to territories controlled by the [Russian] military”.

The Ukrainian authorities have also expressed concern about electricity production from the Zaporizha nuclear power plant upstream of the dam. According to the Russian-installed power plant authority, “there is no threat to the safety of the Zaporizha nuclear power plant. Five blocks are in cold shutdown, one is in ‘hot shutdown’. The water level in the cooling pond has not changed”. The International Atomic Safety Agency (IASA) confirmed the Russian authorities’ statement, declaring that the site remained under surveillance, but that there was “no immediate nuclear danger”.-

Ecocide, a war crime in Ukraine?

The term “ecocide“, composed of the prefix “eco-“, derived from the ancient Greek oikos (or Latin oeco), meaning “house”, and the suffix “-cide”, derived from the Latin verb “caedere”, “to kill”, means the “killing” of the environment. This concept still suffers from a lack of official recognition in public international law. It was first used by biologist Arthur W. Galston in the early 70’s to denounce the consequences of the war on the flora and fauna of Vietnam.

The consequences of the military actions perpetrated in Ukraine have once again rekindled an international debate around the notion. On March 29th, members of European Parliament voted in favor of recognizing the notion of ecocide in European law. In accordance with European law, member states must now incorporate this new provision into their national legislation.

Following the destruction of the Kakhovka dam, flooding affected the Dnieper River and its tributaries. The lower reaches of these rivers were submerged for several kilometers by water from the dam, and then underwent several backwashes. The sudden arrival of so much fresh water could have a temporary impact on the marine life of the Dnieper estuary. The pollutants transported by these floods will affect the viability of the flora and fauna of these rivers. This is also the case at sea: the flooding has transported large quantities of fuel and pollutants from the towns and farmland affected by the destruction of the dam. According to the NGO Ecoaction Ukraine, fish corpses have been piling up on the shores of the Black Sea for several weeks now.

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