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Catastrophic impact of Nova Kakhovka dam, Ukraine, collapse to be felt for decades

In the early hours of June 6, the dam which powers the Nova Kakhovka hydroelectric plant in Kherson Oblast collapsed, unleashing untold devastation. The dam held a reservoir containing 18 cubic km of water, supplying communities and agriculture around the Dnipro river, and providing cooling water to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station. Following the breach, villages in Kherson and Mykolaiv are flooding, miles of crops have been decimated, and supplies of drinking water are severely threatened. 

According to the Associated Press, 14 civilians have been killed in the flooding caused by the collapse, and some 230 square miles are under water. Thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes, rescued from their rooftops, or piloted to safety by boat, and the count of those killed and injured is likely to rise in the coming weeks. Water is being delivered to stranded residents by drone. The evacuation and rescue operation remain ongoing, with both sides claiming that civilians and rescuers have been targeted by shelling.

CNN called it the “one of the biggest industrial and ecological disasters in Europe for decades.” In fact, there are major environmental concerns: the Dnipro river has reportedly been contaminated with 150 tonnes of industrial lubricant, with another 300 tonnes at risk of leaking. The impact of the breach on Ukraine’s struggling agricultural sector will be felt for years to come, as miles of agricultural land are submerged, washed away, or contaminated. Agricultural lands in Kherson, Crimea, and Zaporizhzhia could be at risk of becoming deserts. On June 8, Zelensky claimed that 50,000 hectares of forest were flooded, and that 20,000 animals and 10,000 birds were at risk of immediate death. Ukraine’s Deputy Minister of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources stated that, “Due to the comprehensive damage done to the area, this is the biggest ecocide in Ukraine since the beginning of the full-scale invasion.” 

While Russia and Ukraine have traded blame over the collapse, with Russia also suggesting that the dam exploded due to wear and tear, Ukraine’s domestic security service said it intercepted a telephone call proving a Russian “sabotage group” blew up the Kakhovka hydroelectric station and dam in southern Ukraine. Ukrainian news outlets also claimed back in October 2022 that Russian forces had been laying mines in the dam in April 2022. 

As of June 9, 2023, Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) has recorded 13,831 civilians killed and injured in since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, including at least 462 children. 94% of civilian casualties have occured in populated areas, including multiple urban areas (4,734 civilian casualties), residential areas (4,586), villages (1,082), and entertainment venues (630). AOAV stands alongside the civilians whose lives have been changed forever by the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, and who will continue to live with the consequences of this human, environmental, and industrial disaster for years. War, and in particular the use of explosive weapons, always disproportionately affects civilians.