Kakhovka Dam Destruction: Russia’s Ecocide and Economic War Against Ukraine (Part Two)

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 20 Issue: 104

Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant has been under Russian control since March 2023 (Source: BBC News Russian)

*Read Part One.

The destruction of the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant (HPP) on June 6, caused by the Russian occupation forces, proved to be a catastrophic event with wide-ranging environmental and economic consequences for Ukraine and the broader Black Sea region. Recent satellite images confirm the virtual nonexistence of the Kakhovka Reservoir, as only the Dnipro River, a handful of tributaries and a few small lakes in the vicinity remain discernible (24tv.ua, June 21). The long-lasting repercussions of this attack extend beyond immediate damage, as the full extent of the consequences has yet to be determined (see EDM, June 19). Even so, it is already evident that this large-scale man-made disaster will have a significant impact on the Ukrainian economy, with damages amounting to billions of dollars.

To begin with, Ukraine’s agricultural sector, heavily reliant on irrigation, is expected to suffer severe setbacks, leading to potential food shortages and major economic losses. The destruction of the Kakhovka dam has disrupted 31 essential field irrigation systems and left 94 percent of the Kherson, 74 percent of the Zaporizhzhia and 30 percent of the Dnipropetrovsk regions’ irrigation systems without a primary source of water. These regions have traditionally served as the main hubs for grain, oil, as well as vegetable and fruit production in the country. In 2021 alone, these systems contributed to the irrigation of an area of 584,000 hectares, yielding about 4 million tons of grain and oil crops, worth an estimated $1.5 billion (Minagro.gov.ua, June 9).

Based on initial reports from the Ukrainian Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food, approximately 10,000 hectares of agricultural land on the right bank (eastern side) of Kherson region have been submerged, while significantly more hectares on the left bank (western side), currently under occupation, have also been affected. As a result of the destruction of the Kakhovka HPP, an estimated 1.5 million hectares of land will not be able to be fully utilized. Long-term effects are expected to unfold in the coming months and years, as fertile fields in the southern regions of Ukraine may turn into deserts. The restoration of irrigation in these areas is projected to take anywhere from three to seven years. Damages, which are still being calculated, already reach more than $10 billion in most estimates (Svoboda, June 18). The exact amount can be determined only after the territories are de-occupied. According to the United Nations, the attack on the dam will create huge problems for global food security and will lead to rising food prices and problems with drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people (Lb.ua, June 14).

The fishing industry is also expected to suffer significant losses. The Kakhovka Reservoir stood as a hub for commercial freshwater fish species in Ukraine, having one of the largest concentrations in the country. Prior to the incident, the reservoir accommodated nearly 43 different fish species, with 20 of them holding considerable commercial value. Regrettably, the destruction of the reservoir has led to the annihilation of virtually all spawning grounds and the main water levels that serve as a habitat for these species. Thus, the rapid depletion of the reservoir has left the majority of young fish stranded in shallow, drained areas. Without basic water resources, their survival becomes impossible (Speka.media, June 7).

Numerous reports already confirm the mass deaths of both young and adult fish, with estimated damages reaching 95,000 tons or approximately 4 billion hryvnia ($109 million) solely from the loss of adult fish. Preliminary calculations suggest that the overall losses from the death of biological resources may amount to 10.5 billion hryvnia ($286 million) (Minagro.gov.ua, June 6).

Another problem will be the entry and death of freshwater fish and other biological resources in the salty waters of the Black Sea. In turn, the influx of excessive freshwater may lead to the death of Black Sea fauna, resulting in a significant loss of biodiversity and heavy environmental damage. Even if the bed of the Kakhovka Reservoir is filled in the near future (which is unrealistic), the negative consequences of the devastation of aquatic bio-resources will continue for several years. And the restoration of the quantitative and qualitative composition of fish populations and ecosystems will take a number of years (Ukrinform, June 10).

The explosion triggered by the Russians will also inflict serious harm on Ukraine’s forestry sector. Prolonged flooding can lead to the complete loss of young forest plantations while posing a threat to the lives and well-being of animals in the area (Rada.gov.ua, June 6). Additionally, the Dnipro will face impassable conditions for navigation in the coming years, as the destruction and flooding of roads, bridges, moorings and protective dams in the lower reaches of the river have rendered them inoperable. Furthermore, the ports in Nikopol, Kamianka-Dniprovska and Enerhodar will remain closed for an extended period. The railway tracks connecting Zaporizhzhia and Dnipro with Crimea, Kryvyi Rih and Donbas are also at risk of being washed away and destroyed, disrupting crucial transportation links (Kurkul.com, June 6).

Moreover, the obliteration of the Kakhovka HPP signifies the loss of 335 megawatts in renewable energy capacity and approximately 1.42 billion kilowatt hours of electricity generated annually. Its reconstruction will cost at least $1 billion and will take approximately five years (Economics.novyny.live, June 22). Before the full-scale invasion, the Kakhovka HPP had played a central role within Ukraine’s energy system by aiding in the balancing of electricity production from renewable sources, which are quite abundant in the southern regions of Ukraine. Notably, the Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions alone housed 67 percent of the country’s total wind energy capacity (Forbes.ua, June 6). Through its attack on the Kakhovka dam, Russia has destroyed a critical part of the Ukrainian renewable energy system and jeopardized the safety of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (Gazeta-fp.com.ua, June 24). This poses a global threat that extends beyond national borders (see EDM, June 1).

The overall magnitude of the damage caused by the Russian attack is still being assessed, and it is still too early to quantify the full extent of the consequences. The focus of immediate efforts must be on addressing the humanitarian needs of the affected regions and providing support for the recovery of Ukraine’s agricultural and other economic sectors. International assistance, as well as collaboration between relevant stakeholders, will be essential in mitigating the long-term repercussions of this disaster and ensuring the future sustainability of the affected regions.