On Tuesday morning, a major dam located in Russian-occupied southern Ukraine was demolished, causing a massive flood that threatened the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people.
Nova Kakhovka Dam
The Nova Kakhovka dam, which was built in the Soviet era and controlled by Russian forces since the outbreak of the war in 2022, was blown up by Russian troops, according to Ukrainian military reports. Russia denied any involvement and blamed the dam collapse on Ukrainian shelling.
The Nova Kakhovka dam was located on the Dnipro River in the Kherson region, which borders the Crimean peninsula that Russia annexed in 2014. The dam was part of a hydroelectric complex that provided electricity and irrigation to the region. It also regulated the river's water level and prevented the flooding of nearby settlements and farmlands. The dam was 2.5 kilometres long and 18 meters high, creating a reservoir with a capacity of 2.5 billion cubic meters of water.
The destruction of the dam unleashed a torrent of water that washed away everything in its path. The water level rose rapidly and reached a critical level within five hours, according to the Russian-installed governor of the Kherson region.
What is the Kakhovka dam in Ukraine?
The Kakhovka Dam, also known as the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Station, is a major dam and hydroelectric power station located on the Dnipro River in Ukraine. It is located near the city of Kakhovka in the Kherson region of southern Ukraine.
The Kakhovka Dam was built during the Soviet era and completed in 1956. It serves multiple purposes, including generating electricity, irrigation, and regulating the water level in the Dnipro River. The dam creates a reservoir that helps control the flow of water, prevents flooding, and facilitates navigation along the river.
Evacuation order issued amidst devastation
The Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs issued an evacuation order for residents of 10 villages on the right bank of the river and parts of the city of Kherson, urging them to gather essential documents and pets, turn off electrical appliances and leave. Unverified videos on social media showed intense explosions around the dam and water gushing from its remains, as bystanders expressed their shock and fear.
The explosion also posed a serious threat to the nearby Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which is the largest in Europe and provides about 20% of Ukraine's electricity.
The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, held an emergency meeting to assess the situation and coordinate response efforts. His chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, called the destruction of the dam an “ecocide” that could have catastrophic consequences for the environment and human security.
The Nova Kakhovka dam was one of the last major infrastructure facilities remaining under Ukrainian control in the south.
Oleksandr Prokudin, head of the Kherson regional military administration, says at least eight different settlements in the area are already flooded following the reported destruction at the dam, and authorities are bracing for more flooding in the region.
He says that at least 16,000 people are at risk from flooding. Residents of regions at risk are being evacuated by buses to Kherson, then they will be transferred to different cities in the country, including the capital kyiv, Prokudin says in a Telegram post.
An evacuation train will leave Kherson for the southern city of Mykolaiv at noon, he added.
Motive behind dam destruction: uncertainty
The motive behind the destruction of the dam remains unclear as both sides have accused each other of sabotage and propaganda. Some analysts have suggested that Russia may have wanted to create a humanitarian crisis and divert attention from its recent setbacks on other fronts, such as near Bakhmut, where Ukrainian forces claimed to have recaptured some ground.
Others have speculated that Russia may have aimed to cut off water supplies to Crimea, which has been suffering from severe drought and water shortages since its annexation. Alternatively, some have argued that Ukraine may have tried to damage the dam to prevent it from falling into Russian hands or to create a pretext for international intervention.
Regardless of who was responsible, the explosion has added more misery and uncertainty to an already dire situation for millions of people living in the war zone. The humanitarian impact of the flooding is likely to be severe, as many people have lost their homes, crops, livestock and belongings.
The environmental impact is also likely to be significant, as the water may have been contaminated with chemicals or radioactive materials from nearby industrial facilities or military bases. The political impact is also likely to be profound, as the incident may spark further violence and instability in the region and beyond.
Facts about the Nova Kakhovka Dam
- The dam, 30 meters (98 feet) high and 3.2 km (2 miles) long, was built in 1956 on the Dnipro River as part of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power station.
- The reservoir also supplies water to the Crimean peninsula, annexed by Russia in 2014, and to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, which is also under Russian control.
- The volume of water in the reservoir is approximately equal to that of the Great Salt Lake in the US state of Utah.
- Blowing up the Soviet-era dam, which is controlled by Russia, would trigger flooding across much of the Kherson region.
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