Russia’s Dam Attack Will Hamper, Not Stop, Ukraine’s Counterstrike

Russia caused a human and ecological disaster blowing up Kahovka dam but won't stop counter-offensive

7 June 2023

Aleksandra Klitina

Future of Ukraine Fellow

On 6 June, according to Ukrainian authorities, the Russian military blasted the dam at the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant (HPP).

The Kakhovka dam, power plant and the North Crimean Canal were seized by Russian troops during the first days of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Flooding in nearby territories has already begun and is causing an environmental and humanitarian catastrophe.

The discussions about the possibility that Russians would blow up ps the power plant and the dam started as soon as the Russian army seized it. In April 2022, Ukrainian military intelligence announced that the Russian militants had mined the plant. Shortly thereafter, Ukrainian authorities started to prepare for the consequences and planned for the rescue of the residents.

Social infrastructure

Experts from the Kherson civil protection department projected that in the case of the Kakhovka dam destruction, more than 80 settlements along the Dnipro River and Kherson would be submerged, including the cities and villages on the left bank of the Dnipro River: Kazatskoe, Kardashinka, Kohany, Lvovo, Tyaginka, Oleshki, Hola Prystan, Peschanovka. Many others will fall into the flood zone. The catastrophic flooding of settlements along the Dnipro River indeed occurred within a few hours after the dam was blown.

“The water level in the Dnipro River may rise to 5 metres after the breach. The maximum level will be reached in 13 hours and 48 minutes. The standing time of the flood peak is three hours 30 minutes,” the Kherson civil protection department projected.

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Industrial ecologist Natalya Kozbur noted that the water level in the reservoir had already risen to catastrophic levels. She added that the breakthrough would destroy all infrastructure in the affected areas.

“The electricity supply is a whole network. This means that not only one area but all adjacent areas will also be disconnected. Therefore, the scale will be bigger than the maps show. All communications for people’s livelihoods will be disrupted,” she said.

The problem of restoring livability in the regions of the south arises. It may lead to the temporary depopulation of certain localities and a new wave of refugees in other cities.

How the Kakhovka disaster influences the Ukrainian counter-offensive

Ukrainian military intelligence representative Andriy Yusov confirmed that Ukraine had taken into account that the Russians could blast the Kakhovka HPP dam.

“Last year, Ukrainian military intelligence reported that the Kakhovka hydroelectric power station had been mined by Russian troops, publishing photo and video evidence. Today, by committing this terrorist act, ecocide, the Russians are trying to complicate the de-occupation of Ukrainian territories. In particular, there are fears of an amphibious landing.

This terrorist act also continues Russia’s nuclear blackmail policy, as it will complicate the security situation at Zaporizhzhya NPP,” Yusov commented to Kyiv Post.

In October 2022, the American Institute for the Study of War predicted that Russian troops could breach the Kakhovka dam after retreating from Kherson, allowing them to “blame” Ukraine for flooding surrounding settlements.

Interactive maps of the consequences of a possible breach of the Kakhovka dam, published eight months ago by various media, showed large areas would be flooded, primarily on the left bank of the Dnipro River, which is under the occupation of the Russian army. Experts estimate that the wave will be 4.8 meters high, and the spill will be about 5 kilometres wide.

According to Nataliya Humenyuk, head of the South Ukrainian Defense Forces press centre, the Russians blew up Kakhovka as a desperate measure to hamper the counter-offensive and put pressure on Ukraine.

“The Russians have blown up part of the structure and are using the blackmail card to pressure the Defense Forces, to pressure Ukraine as a whole, having no more strength to wait to see where that counter-offensive will come from,” Humenyuk said.

“Having realised what they [Russians] have done, they are now evacuating themselves because the left bank will be the first to suffer, as it is geographically lower and, accordingly, the first part of the water, the main flooding will fall there,” she said.

Impacts on the Environment

According to ecologists, the flooding will do enormous damage to fauna and flora, with species not adapted to living in water suffering huge losses.

“The scale of the ecological disaster will go far beyond Ukraine and affect the entire Black Sea region. The damage caused to the environment by this terrorist act of the Russians will be comprehensive, long-term, and irreparable. The entire ecosystem will be affected. That is why this is, in fact, a real ecocide,” says Andrei Nelipa, President of the Ukrainian Fishermen Community.

Nataliya Kozbur adds that cemeteries and landfills can also be washed away. In turn, this will lead to releasing toxic substances into the water.

“At least 150 tons of machine grease are now known to have entered the Dnipro. However, there is a risk that the spill will double, i.e., up to 300 tons,” she said.

Additionaly, as a result of the disaster, there will be the destruction of ecosystems of the lower Dnipro and Kakhovka reservoir, the devastation of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems in the flood zone, and the collapse of zoological and biological monuments.

Moreover, the erosion of coastal lines will result in the ingress of soil bacteria into the water, which reduces its quality.

Water problem in the region

Residents of the Kherson region have already been urged to stock up on drinking and technical water. Local media has started publishing videos of the state of water in people’s homes in Kherson and the region as well as Crimea. However, the destruction of the dam and its other structures could result in no water at all.

“Falling water levels in the Kakhovka reservoir will lead to a decrease in the groundwater table – draining wells, irrigation canals, and rivers. If the level drops by at least one meter, the drinking water intakes won’t work either, and the population won’t get drinking water,” Nelipa explains.

Kyiv’s response

After a meeting among the top brass, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced that the blowing up of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power station dam will not affect Ukraine’s ability to de-occupy its own territories.

According to the president, Ukrainian intelligence has found that the Russians deliberately blew up the dam but acted chaotically, allowing their own equipment to be flooded.

Zelenskyy added that the situation at the front and the preparedness of Ukrainian forces for further action were also analysed.


Published as part of our Future of Ukraine Fellowship programme. Learn more about it here and consider contributing.

Aleksandra Klitina

Future of Ukraine Fellow

Aleksandra Klitina is a Future of Ukraine Fellow as well as a Senior Correspondent for Kyiv Post, with over a decade of experience in private and public institutions, including serving as a former Deputy Minister in Ukraine’s Ministry of Infrastructure. She has a background in advocating infrastructure and public administration reforms and has worked on EU projects in Ukraine.

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