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IMMINENT WARNING: KAKHOVKA DAM SEVERELY BREACHED IN POSSIBLE WAR CRIME, DIRE ECOLOGICAL CONCERNS

June 6, 2023

Gabriel Helupka, Sophia Ritscher, Jennifer Radlinsky, Megan Khalife EUCOM, Emergency Management, Health, and Hazards (EMH2), and Behavior and Leadership Teams

Álvaro Picón, Editor; Cameron Munoz, Senior Editor


Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant[1]


Event: Following an explosion on June 6, a significant breach occurred at the Nova Kakhovka dam, located on the Dnipro River in the contested region of Kherson, southern Ukraine. The breach resulted in an uncontrollable and rapid surge of water from the 150-mile reservoir, leading to widespread flooding of adjacent areas. Ukrainian authorities had previously warned that the dam's failure could release 4.8 billion gallons of water, endangering thousands of lives. Ukrainian and Russian authorities issued evacuation orders for nearby residents and expressed concerns about the ecological consequences, with the Ukrainian Interior Ministry emphasizing the need to stay vigilant and wary of disinformation. The dam is part of the strategically important Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant, which Ukraine's state hydropower generating company declared irreparable after blasts in the machine hall.[2] The dam supplies water to the Crimean peninsula and functions as a cooling system for Zaporizhzhia, Europe's largest nuclear power plant. Ukrainian officials accused Russia of deliberately exploding the dam, while Russian officials attributed it to Ukrainian military strikes and preexisting damage.[3] European Council President Charles Michel labeled the dam’s destruction a potential war crime[4] under the Geneva Convention, as it explicitly prohibits targeting dams during wars due to the significant risk posed to civilians by collateral damage.[5]


Significance: The dam’s breach will almost certainly trigger a humanitarian crisis, likely flooding hundreds of nearby towns and significantly damaging infrastructure like houses, businesses, roadways, and bridges. The mass flooding is very likely to impede or halt water supplies to adjacent canals and considerably reduce available drinking water for a large portion of the population. Local agriculture will likely be affected by the breach, likely worsening regional food security and disrupting people’s livelihoods. Sustained flooding will very likely impact regional energy security, resulting in prolonged power outages and increased flood risk to other crucial energy infrastructures, like the Kherson Thermal Power Plant. Flooding will very likely impact upcoming counteroffensives in the contested territory in Kherson. This will very likely impact Russia’s defensive fortifications and pose challenges for Ukrainian forces in their efforts to advance, sustain supply lines, and access critical infrastructure like roads and bridges. The Dnipro River will likely be vulnerable to oil pollution from the destroyed Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant equipment, likely contaminating the water and increasing waste with a roughly even chance of contaminated water spilling over to the Black Sea. The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant is unlikely to face an immediate threat but sustained rapid drops in water levels from the reservoir will likely threaten its reservoir-dependent systems’ operability long-term. Ukraine will very likely divert resources to assist with humanitarian efforts, likely calling on Western allies to provide additional aid and equipment to unite against Russian aggression. Ukraine and its Western allies will likely continue asserting that Russia deliberately detonated the dam in a possible war crime, likely accusing Russia of trying to stop Ukrainian counteroffensives and imposing additional sanctions.


Recommendations

  • The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) recommends the evacuation of all civilians in the affected area. Civilians should stay out of flooded areas and be vigilant around potential hazards and damaged infrastructures. CTG further recommends the creation of safe passage routes for civilians, allowing them to evacuate the affected area in the safest way possible.

  • CTG recommends civilians to seek refuge with relatives in alternative locations, exercise caution while traveling, avoid flooded areas, and seek assistance from local first responders when needed. For those without nearby families in unaffected regions, CTG recommends they contact local authorities or international organizations for assistance in finding accessible shelter and relief programs. CTG recommends that schools in non-flooded areas serve as emergency shelters to accommodate large numbers of civilians and provide safe and accessible spaces.

  • Ukrainian authorities should include regional mayors in evacuation efforts to ensure the safety and security of displaced residents. Mayors in towns receiving displaced individuals should partner with NGOs to develop long-term plans to distribute resources and create suitable living arrangements.

  • CTG recommends that international bodies, like the EU, extend humanitarian aid to affected areas and provide flood-proof vehicles, generators, mobile water treatment plants, water trucks, medical equipment, and other necessary resources to enhance relief efforts.

  • CTG recommends the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) closely monitor the reservoir-dependent systems of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in the upcoming months and establish contingency plans for alternative water sources in case of additional damage to the dam and the Kherson Thermal Power Plant.

  • CTG recommends that neutral third-party security experts investigate the likely cause of the explosion and the possibility of this constituting a war crime. We also recommend experts perform comprehensive threat assessments to determine potential long-term humanitarian impacts, challenges to the upcoming counteroffensive, infrastructure damage, and costs to rebuild the dam.

  • CTG recommends remaining vigilant regarding disinformation on the incident and potentially fake photos or videos. We recommend following credible sources and local authorities covering the event for the most up-to-date information and fact-checking any media, as these provide instructions and guidance on the next steps.

  • CTG recommends that hospitals set up healthcare facilities in the affected areas to accommodate a potential increase in demand for healthcare services and resources. Hospitals should ensure they identify and address public health concerns related to access to clean water and sterile conditions for patient treatment to avoid secondary infections. Hospitals should provide sufficient medical equipment and medications to treat all patients effectively. Hospitals may coordinate with other medical facilities to manage the influx of patients.

  • CTG recommends documenting property damages resulting from the flood through pictures and videos. Evidence of the damages will be valuable when requesting aid for recovery and reconstruction efforts, filing claims for insurance purposes, and demonstrating liability in the context of the war.

  • CTG recommends contacting family, friends, and mental health experts for emotional support following this distressing event. Contact hotlines in the areas, as trained professionals specializing in crisis intervention and emergency management offer services aiding affected communities.

  • If there is any additional and or critical information please contact us at The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) by Telephone 202-643-2848 or email info@counterterrorismgroup.com

 

[2] Ukraine accuses Russia of destroying major dam near Kherson, warns of ecological disaster, AP, June 2023, https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-war-kakhovka-dam-flood-evacuation-eecc9952c2d9f500c38b0a873f69438c

[3] What is the Kakhovka dam in Ukraine - and what happened?, Reuters, June 2023, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/what-is-kakhovka-dam-ukraine-2023-06-06/

[5] Villagers flee after Kakhovka dam destroyed, flooding Ukraine war zone, Reuters, June 2023, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/russia-says-it-thwarts-another-major-ukrainian-offensive-donetsk-2023-06-05/

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