An unknown entity destroyed a massive dam in the Ukraine, Russian-controlled area of southern Ukraine, resulting in a catastrophic flood in the region. The Ukrainian military and NATO have accused Russia of intentionally blowing up the dam, while Russia has shifted the blame onto Ukraine. As a result, thousands of people are being evacuated from nearby communities amid fears of extensive and severe flooding.
The Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant, situated in the city of Nova Kakhovka within Ukraine’s Kherson region, is where the dam was located. This area is currently under Russian occupation. The dam, constructed during the Soviet era, is one of six dams along the Dnipro River, spanning from the northern part of Ukraine to the southern sea. The sheer size of the dam is remarkable, with locals referring to it as the “Kakhovka Sea” due to the inability to see the opposite bank in certain areas. According to Reuters, the dam holds a water volume equivalent to the Great Salt Lake in Utah, United States.
The exact cause of the dam’s destruction remains unclear, but satellite images indicate that its condition had been deteriorating over several days. On June 6, a breach in the dam wall occurred, resulting in water surging through and flooding downstream towards Kherson. Images captured in Nova Kakhovka depict buildings submerged in floodwaters, with even swans seen swimming near a local government office. The authorities have issued urgent evacuation warnings to residents residing in low-lying parts of Kherson, which is less than 50 miles downstream. It is estimated that approximately 16,000 people reside in this critical zone, and there are concerns that the flooding could be devastating.
Reports indicate that the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant has been fully destroyed and cannot be restored, as confirmed by Ukrainian hydro power dam operator UkrHydroEnerho. The aftermath of the dam’s destruction has also led to the contamination of the river with 150 tonnes of industrial lubricant. President Volodymyr Zelensky stated that an additional 300 tonnes were at risk of leaking.
While Ukraine’s military has accused Russia of deliberately causing the dam breach, Russia has denied involvement and instead blamed Ukraine for sabotage. The possibility exists that Russia sought to prevent Ukrainian forces from utilizing the dam road to advance troops into Russian-controlled territory. The claims made by both countries have not yet been verified by the BBC.
The dam plays a crucial role in supplying water to numerous upstream communities, with farmers relying on it for their crops. Therefore, the breach could have significant implications for tens of thousands of people if the floodwaters extend far enough. Moreover, the dam provides cooling water to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station, located about 100 miles upstream, which is also under Russian control. While the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has stated that there is no immediate nuclear safety risk, they are closely monitoring the situation. The IAEA clarified that alternative water sources, including a large cooling pond near the power station, can be utilized if the dam water level falls below the critical threshold of 12.7m.
The dam also serves as a vital channel for transporting water from the Dnipro River to Russian-occupied Crimea. Following the annexation of Crimea in 2014, Ukraine blocked the channel, leading to a water crisis on the peninsula. However, Russian forces reopened the channel after last year’s full-scale invasion. Nevertheless, without the dam, the decrease in water levels could once again disrupt the flow of water along the channel, affecting water supplies in Crimea.
Since the invasion, Russia has targeted several dams in Ukraine, causing widespread flooding and disrupting power supplies. This recent destruction of the dam in southern Ukraine marks another alarming development in the ongoing conflict between the two nations.