Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Station: a heart-rending anniversary of the tragedy
June 7, 2024

Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Station: a heart-rending anniversary of the tragedy


A year ago, on 6 June 2023, Russia once again struck Ukraine, hitting the Kakhovka hydroelectric power station. As a result,the dam collapsed and a huge part of the land was flooded. Water was everywhere, and people who had just returned to their de-occupied homes lost them for a second time. Houses, fields and settlements were flooded, especially on the left low bank of the Dnipro River in the Kherson region. This was an act of ecocide, a huge man-made disaster, the consequences of which we have been cleaning up for a year now, and will continue to do so for even longer. One year on, we need to reflect on why this catastrophe is dangerous not only for Ukraine, but also for the whole world; how the EU helped us to deal with the consequences and how it can help now. Also it’s important to remember the victims and survivors of the flood. It’s going to be hard, but history lives on as long as it is remembered. 

War makes us think about our lives more. When you live in a country at war, you inevitably begin to appreciate life and every day. You can’t know what will happen tomorrow, so every day turns into a worry for your life. Especially when you live not far away from the front line. Also, sometimes you start to think that today is going to be as usual as the others, but it’s not always like that. The sixth of June 2023 could have been a normal day too. But now we remember it as one of the biggest ecocide attacks in Ukraine. A year has passed. We are still feeling the effects and will continue to do so for a long time. So, now I want to remind how things went back then, a year ago.

Back in time 

On 6 June 2023, at around three o’clock, the Russian military blew up the dam of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power station in the Kherson region. It was the fifth largest hydropower plant in Ukraine and the largest in terms of shallow water. The south of Ukraine was hardest hit, especially on the left low bank of the Dnipro River in Kherson region. At 8am, the Kherson City Council announced that the Korabel neighborhood was cut off due to the threat of flooding, and also reported that the gas supply was cut off. And at around 9 o’clock, it began to flood. Hundreds of houses were flooded, and many people who had finally returned home after the occupation were forced to evacuate their homes again. Energoatom initially warned that the decrease in water level was an additional threat to the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant. However, later it was noted that “as of 8:00 am, the water level is 16.6 meters, which is sufficient for the needs of the plant” and confirmed that there was no immediate threat to the Zaporizhzhya NPP. 

FILE PHOTO: An aerial view shows a flooded area after the Nova Kakhovka dam breached, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Kherson, Ukraine June 10, 2023. REUTERS/Inna Varenytsia/File Photo

Consequences: Lives

Blowing up the Kakhovka hydroelectric power station, of course, had many negative consequences, which we have been cleaning up for a year now, and will continue to do so for even longer. The first and worst thing is the loss of life. Many people were wounded, many went missing. Some children will never see their parents again. The water took away a lot: memories, stories, lives. We still don’t know the exact number of victims, because the worst happened to people in the occupied territories.

Irrigation systems

Southern regions of Ukraine historically were producers of fruit and vegetables, which need irrigation systems. In 2021, these systems provided irrigation on 584,000 hectares, from which Ukrainian farmers harvested about 4 million tonnes of grains and oilseeds, worth about $1.5 billion. One of the biggest consequences for the agriculture sector was that without water from the Kakhovka reservoir, irrigation in three regions will not work. According to the Ministry, only 13 irrigation systems are operating on the right bank of the Dnipro this year. As a result of the hydroelectric power station explosion, 94% of irrigation systems in Kherson, 74% in Zaporizhzhya and 30% in Dnipro regions were left without water.

Animals

Not only humans and plants suffered from the tragedy. Animals were in danger too. The most striking example is the ‘Kazkova Dibrova’ zoo where there were nearly 300 animals, ponies, monkeys, donkeys and others. They were under occupation from the first day of the invasion, evacuation was impossible, so the animals were helped there as best they could. But a year ago the zoo was flooded and none of the animals survived. 

The EU and the tragedy

There were also consequences for countries in Europe. Water from the Kakhovka reservoir flows into the Black Sea. A good guess of the type of pollutants that got spilled can be derived from the first Dnipro basin pollution screening, which was undertaken during the EU Water Initiative Plus project back in October 2020. Another problem arises from the marine litter, including doors, clothing, tents, books, and other items from flooded houses, now polluting the sea. Although these items will eventually break down, the current situation has already caused the death of half of the mussels’ population, which is responsible for water purification. Not only the Ukrainian environment is suffering from this tragedy. That’s why Europe is very active in helping us. 

So, Europe feels like one huge family. A lot of countries are helping Ukraine to clean up the aftermath of the disaster. In 2023, 16 European countries – Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain, and Sweden – offered assistance via the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, delivering water tankers, water pumps, boats, rescue equipment, generators, and other in-kind life-saving assistance to the affected areas. Also a lot of European volunteers helped civilians with evacuation, supplying drinking water, food, clothing and other humanitarian aid. The European Union was with us in such a hard time. 

Photo by Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto/ via Reuters Connect

Today

Nowadays, we know that the only surviving element of the station is a section of the Kakhovka dam near the right bank. Ukrhydroenergo, the state-owned operator of Ukrainian hydroelectric power plants, noted that after the war, the Kakhovka HPP might not be restored. Where crucian carp used to swim and barges used to sail, today everything is covered with lush greenery growing on the former bottom of the reservoir. 

Restoring

Some ecologists and historians have noted that we now have a chance to restore Velykyi Luh. Velykyi Luh is the historical name of the area, the giant river floodplains that existed until 1950 on the left bank of the Dnipro River. The Velykyi Luh was flooded by the waters of the Kakhovka Reservoir in 1955-1957, except for some areas. As a result of the explosion of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power station on 6 June 2023, Velykyi Luh was released to the surface. It’s our history, so now there is an opinion of restoring it as a nature reserve and historical memory site.

But we have another problem: without the Kakhovka dam, there will be no reservoir, and it is very important for the existence of agriculture in the south. And still, as I pointed out a lot of times today: we will never be able to restore the homes and memories of everyone who suffered from this tragedy. But together with the help of The European Union and other countries, we can deal with the consequences and make that zone safe again.




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