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.
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.”
Comment: Many feared the Russians would blow this dam as they withdrew from Kherson last year although doing so would render the North Crimean Canal bringing water to Crimea inoperable. It now appears the Russians are moving into the “scorched earth” phase of their war. Crimean reservoirs have been filled so there is no immediate danger to the drinking water supply, but the long term prospects for Crimea are now pretty dim. The dam and canal will take years to rebuild.
Militarily, blowing the dam does protect Russia’s flank from possible amphibious incursions across the river at least until the resulting mud flats dry out. But any such amphibious incursions by Ukraine would have been raids at best. Ukraine does not have the capability to sustain a major offensive action across the Dnipro. Russia has sacrificed the foreseeable future of Crimea in exchange for assuaging their fear of these phantom raids.
I think Russia has resigned herself to the eventual loss of the rest of Kherson oblast and the waters of the Dnipro. They may think they can or, more likely, must retain Crimea. But the loss of the North Crimean Canal, the very likely future interdiction of the Kerch Bridge and the continued threat of drone and missile strikes at Sevastopol will largely negate the strategic value of Crimea to Russia. The symbolic value of Crimea to Russia, however, is immense. Russia will not withdraw voluntarily, especially under the Putin regime.