This Is How The Kakhovka Dam Attack Will Change The War
The destruction of the hydroelectric dam has caused massive flooding and is forcing mass evacuations. And while the disaster is threatening local populations, it is also bound to alter the course of the war — in more ways than one.
The destruction of the Kakhovka dam is among the worst man-made disasters ever seen in the southern Ukrainian region of Kherson, which had already seen devastating fighting during the Russian invasion. But it also comes as Ukrainian troops begin their much anticipated push into Russian-occupied territory — indeed, it was likely timed with that in mind.
So how will the destroyed infrastructure, widespread flooding and humanitarian catastrophe along the Dnipro River affect the counteroffensive?
In the areas flooded by the bursting dam, the situation is developing rapidly — and the consequences have already surpassed the worst forecasts of both Ukrainian and international experts.
The affected area includes territories on both banks of the Dnipro River, from the town of Nova Kakhovka, where the dam and hydroelectric power plant were located, to the outflow of the river into the Black Sea near the Kingsburg Spit, which rising water levels have turned into an island.
Changing the area's landscape, urgent evacuation of people, and the actual transfer of the front line in this region will inevitably affect the course of the war, especially given Ukraine's offensive to liberate the southern territories. From experts and information on the ground, here's a forecast of five ways the dam's destruction will change the war:
Flooding of the territory
An obvious problem for the Ukrainian army: flooding along the banks of the Dnipro River, which is now the border between Ukrainian and Russian forces.
Ukraine fully controls the right bank, while Russia partially controls the left bank. This includes the entire coastline from Zaporizhzhia to the Black Sea, as well as land access to Russian-occupied Crimea. The left bank, which is geographically lower, has suffered the worst flooding.
The dam breach will completely change the landscape of the region, broadening the river and making adjacent territories swampy and unsuitable not only for living but also for moving heavy military equipment.
The flooding will end even the remote possibility of a Ukrainian offensive across the Dnipro into the occupied southern regions. But crossing the river wasn't likely part of the Ukrainian plans, notes Mykola Bieleskov, an analyst at the National Institute for Strategic Studies.
"I don't think the military impact will be great, given that the crossing of the Dnipro was hardly planned as a major blow, but rather as something additional to the counteroffensive. Ukraine and Russia can now free up some forces, so the only question is who can move them somewhere faster," he told Bloomberg.
Flooded area near the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant in the Kherson region
Novaya Kakhovka Emergency Response / ZUMA
Evacuation and rescue operations
Still, Ukraine has been forced to dedicate time and resources to evacuate people from more than 30 settlements on the right bank of the Dnipro River, rescuing people and pets, as well as working to restore water and electricity to the region, and irrigation of agricultural land. Rescuers are also helping the population of the flooded occupied territories, who have been abandoned by the Russian administration.
The dam attack could also lead to problems with the water supply to Russian-occupied Crimea.
But the attitudes of Ukrainians and Russians toward territory under their control are very different: Russian troops are reportedly saving themselves and retreating to safer positions while continuing to shell flooded areas, while Ukrainian forces are doing rescue operations. So far, Russians are not taking any evacuation measures in the occupied territories.
The war has not been paused because of the tragedy in Dnipro. Ukrainian soldiers, medics, rescuers, volunteers and local administrations already must rescue civilians and restore critical infrastructure in different regions every day because of constant shelling by Russian missiles and drones. Now, in addition to these responsibilities, a new burden falls on them, the scale of which is impossible to comprehend: the resettlement of tens of thousands of people, and the loss of crops and critical infrastructure.
The floodwaters are also forcing Russian troops to retreat, and some experts hope that Ukraine may gain advantages on this section of the front in a few weeks. The Russians may even begin to withdraw from the left bank of the Kherson region, suggests Roman Svitan, a military expert and Ukrainian Armed Forces colonel."The receding water may open up some more areas that may not have been considered for the first stage of the offensive," Svitan noted.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Internal Affairs Minister Ihor Klymenko (centre) at the flooded Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant.
The flooding has also led to the destruction of some fortified Russian positions and minefields Russian forces laid down along the entire coastline during their occupation.
While the water has forced them to retreat deeper into the Kherson region, this is not such positive news: the flooding waters also seem to be unearthing mines and unexploded ordinance and scattering them at random, threatening the military and the local population. Some may end up in the Dnipro estuary and the Black Sea.
Water supply in Crimea
There are few sources of fresh water on the peninsula, and the local population is used to living on the edge of drought and relying on water imports from mainland Ukraine.
But now that the largest reservoir supplying the area has been destroyed and the water level is rapidly falling, this longstanding water supply problem may become critical. Although this is not expected to have a direct impact on the frontline, the humanitarian consequences could be severe.
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