The Nova Kakhovka Dam, located in southern Ukraine along the Dnipro River, was destroyed on Tuesday. While Kiev and Moscow are accusing each other of the attack, Russia will suffer more consequences of the dam’s destruction.
The dam was built by the USSR during the 1950s and, for over a year, has sat on the frontlines of the war in Ukraine. It is nearly 100 feet tall and over 10,000 feet wide. The dam was constructed as a hydroelectric power plant and created the Kakhovka Reservoir, which is over 2,000 sq km. Europe’s largest nuclear power plant – the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) and the Crimean Peninsula receive water from the reservoir.
An explosion reportedly ripped through the dam on Tuesday morning, causing flooding to begin downstream. It is unclear if the attack was intentional. The BBC noted the dam had been damaged within the last week.
The most immediate impact of the dam’s destruction is flooding surrounding areas, which is expected to displace at least 16,000 people. A Ukrainian official said eight towns have already been partially or completely flooded. The flooding is expected to be worse in areas controlled by Russia.
The region will also suffer environmental damage from the flooding and tonnes of industrial lubricant used in the hydroelectric power plant.
Another concern is the ZNPP, which is controlled by Russian forces. The Kakhovka Reservoir provided cooling water to the massive power plant. The IAEA, the UN’s nuclear watchdog group, said it is “closely monitoring the situation,” but there is “no immediate nuclear safety risk.”
Kiev immediately blamed Moscow for the attack, calling it a “terrorist attack and war crime.” Ukraine’s Defense Ministry suggested Russia destroyed the dam as a tactical defense of the region.
Ukrainian President Zelensky claimed it was impossible for Ukrainians to have carried out the dam’s destruction. "Russia has been controlling the dam and the entire Kakhovka HPP for more than a year. It is physically impossible to blow it up somehow from the outside, by shelling." He continued, "It was mined by the Russian occupiers. And they blew it up."
However, last year, Ukrainian Maj. Gen. Andriy Kovalchuk told the Washington Post he considered attacking the dam during Ukraine’s counteroffensive last year. "Kovalchuk considered flooding the river." The Post reported. "The Ukrainians, he said, even conducted a test strike with a HIMARS launcher on one of the floodgates at the Nova Kakhovka dam, making three holes in the metal to see if the Dnieper’s water could be raised enough to stymie Russian crossings but not flood nearby villages. The test was a success, Kovalchuk said."
Kremlin Spokesperson Dimitry Peskov said Ukrainian forces were behind the destruction of the dam. “The president receives reports through the Defense Ministry and other services on what is happening around the Kakhovka HPP. Here we can already say unequivocally that this is deliberate sabotage by the Ukrainian side,” he said.
The attack on the dam will impact a core Russian concern in Ukraine. Through the 250-mile-long Northern Crimean Canal, the Kakhovka Reservoir feeds water to the peninsula that Moscow annexed in 2014. Before the invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin regularly issued demands to Kiev that irrigation systems supplying water to Crimea remain open.
Peskov said part of Kiev’s motivation for the attack was depriving Crimea of water. "The water level in the reservoir is dropping, hence, the water supply to the [North Crimean] canal is drastically reduced,” the spokesman said, adding, “Apparently, this sabotage is also due to the fact that, having launched large-scale offensive operations two days ago, the Ukrainian armed forces have been unable to achieve their aims. Their operations are stalled.”