The destruction of the Kakhovskaya HPS can become a “new Chernobyl” for Europe

Daniel Bootman
4 min readJun 23, 2023

On the night of June 6th, the famous Kakhovskaya HPS on the Dnieper River in southern Ukraine was destroyed. The consequences of this event could be catastrophic not only for the region, but for the whole of Europe.

It seems necessary to focus on three main questions regarding the destruction of the Kakhovskaya HPS: who is to blame for this, what threats does this pose to Europe, and what can be done about it?

The founder of the Conflict Intelligence Team, Ruslan Leviev and Arik Toler from the Bellingcat group, who take a pro-Ukrainian position in the current conflict, believe that the Kakhovskaya HPS was destroyed not as a result of an explosion, but from damage received earlier. Such conclusions were drawn on the basis of satellite images, which on June 5th showed a partial collapse of the bridge passing through the dam, while in the image of the dam on May 28th it is still intact. This version is based on data on an unprecedentedly high water level in the Kakhovka reservoir shortly before the collapse.

Such a development of events seems very likely. However, it should be taken into account that the Kakhovskaya HPS was previously the object of rocket attacks by the Ukrainian Armed Forces. The Washington Post, citing Ukrainian Major General Andriy Kovalchuk, notes that the Ukrainian military fired a HIMARS rocket launcher at one of the gates of the Kakhovskaya HPS to see if the waters of the Dnieper could rise enough to block Russian crossings, but not flood nearby areas and villages. It is possible that such missile attacks are one of the reasons for the destruction of the hydroelectric power station.

It is widely believed in the Western press that the destruction of the hydroelectric power station was beneficial for the Russian authorities, as this makes it difficult for Ukrainian troops to cross the Dnieper. However, the situation is more complicated than it seems at first glance. The water would have subsided anyway, that is, if the Russians had managed to delay the hypothetical offensive of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in this area, it would have been only for a few days. However, the same flood completely destroyed the colossal minefields and fortifications erected by the Russians on the left bank of the Dnieper. Many months of work of Putin’s military turned out to be in vain. In addition, the losses of the Russian side as a result of the destruction of the Kakhovskaya hydroelectric power station turned out to be much more significant. About 22 thousand people lost their homes (14 thousand people from Ukraine). As a result of the destruction of the hydroelectric power station. The supply of water to the Russian-controlled peninsula of Crimea was called into question. When Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested that the warring parties launch an independent investigation into the Kakhovskaya hydroelectric power station and create a special international commission on the incident, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba strongly opposed the idea. The actions of the local Ukrainian authorities, which at the peak of the disaster opened the floodgates upstream of the Dnieper River and led to even greater destruction, also seem extremely strange.

All this together suggests that, unfortunately, the Ukrainian side became the main beneficiary (and possibly the perpetrator) of the destruction of the hydroelectric power station.

Whatever the case, the consequences of this event will be a real disaster, both for the region and for the whole of Europe.

The water will flood settlements with sewers, cesspools, cemeteries, agricultural lands, gas stations and other sources of pollution located in them. This will lead to bacterial and chemical contamination of water supply systems in vast territories along the banks of the Dnieper and the Black Sea. At least 150 tonnes of oil products will travel from the HPS to the Dnieper.

For 67 years, bottom sediments of the Kakhovka reservoir have been accumulating heavy metals and persistent chemical pollutants discharged into the river by the agricultural sector and industrial enterprises of Ukraine and Belarus. The dried sludge will be blown across the farmland, where pollutants will enter the food chain. Contaminated Ukrainian agricultural products supplied under the Grain Deal will reach many countries of the world, including Europe. In addition, some part of the contaminated silt will be washed away by the stream, then it will settle on the flooded territories and the banks of the Dnieper and pollute the Black Sea.

There is reason to believe that chemical pollutants will make their way to the coast of European countries in the coming months, which will significantly expand the boundaries of the ecological catastrophe.

As for the last question, which is especially popular among Russians — what can be done? This question has the easiest answer. The world has accumulated an extensive toolkit of action in the event of such environmental disasters. However, while the war is going on in the region, absolutely nothing can be done.

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