Russia bomb areas near the Kakhovka dam
Russia is “highly likely” to have carried out a cynical attack on Ukraine’s Kakhovka dam, a British-led team has claimed.
And Global Right Compliance’s report believes the targeting of the key infrastructure is part of a “calculated” attempt by Vladimir Putin’s regime to “starve, terrorise and force the capitulation of Ukrainian people”.
Furthermore, the Kherson region in the south of Ukraine is now plagued by “floating death” with Russian-planted landmines washed away by the rushing water from the dam posing a constant threat to civilians.
The GRC’s Starvation Mobile Justice Team, consisting of lawyers, military experts, prosecutors and OSINT researchers, reached their conclusions after visiting the dam and hydraulic centre earlier this month.
They were among the first investigative units to visit the affected areas in the Kherson and Mykolaiv Oblasts following the collapse of the dam on June 6.
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A dog rescued from a flooded area after the dam’s collapse
The resulting flooding has been widely described as an environmental disaster which will have far-reaching consequences.
Other theories have suggested the damage caused by mismanagement of the facility, allowing water levels to rise to record highs, but investigators have dismissed such claims, saying it is highly unlikely this alone would explain such catastrophic destruction.
The delegation’s visit to the site and surrounding area allowed them to witness and document first-hand the fallout of the destruction.
The STMJ believes the evidence and analysis of the information available – including seismic sensors and talks with top demolition experts – indicates that there is a high probability the destruction was caused by “pre-emplaced explosives positioned at critical points within the dam’s structure”.
The team has also confirmed that those carried out the attack or overseeing the management of the dam would need access or control of the site, noting that the Russian military has been in control of the affected part of the Kakhovka Dam since Putin ordered his invasion in February 2022.
An aerial shot shows the scale of the flooding
Catriona Murdoch Partner and Head of Starvation Portfolio at Global Rights Compliance said: “Information available to Global Rights Compliance and verified with a leading Open-Source Intelligence provider, indicates that at this stage, it is highly likely Russian forces deliberately destroyed the dam.
“Our evidence and analysis suggests that it is unlikely that mismanagement alone would explain such catastrophic destruction.
“Instead, we find there is a high probability the collapse of the dam was caused by pre-emplaced explosives positioned at critical points within its structure.”
She continued: “The damage to the Kakhovka Dam speaks to a broader, ongoing pattern to terrorise, deliberately starve and punish the Ukrainian people, no matter the cost to human life.
“Given the patterns of attacks against water infrastructure and installations we have been documenting, coupled with the ease with which Russian forces have attacked other objects indispensable to the survival of civilian populations, including in Chernihiv and Mariupol, the destruction of Kakhovka Dam appears to be part of an ongoing and deliberate pattern of attack against civilian objects.
“It therefore falls squarely under international humanitarian law, binding on all parties to the conflict in Ukraine.”
Civilians are having to cope without clean drinking water
In accordance with international humanitarian law, dams are presumed to be civilian in nature, meaning that, absent a valid military objective, any deliberate attack against a dam is likely to constitute a war crime.
Nevertheless, Ms Murdoch said even if it was deemed a legitimate military target, actions deliberately taken to destroy the dam could remain criminal in nature, as a result of the severe impact on the civilian population.
She explained: “Even in the highly unlikely scenario the dam, or indeed the area nearby, posed a valid military objective commensurate with eviscerating the dam, it is still afforded an elevated protection under international humanitarian law, either as an object indispensable to survival by virtue of its utility as a hydro-energy source – in relation to its agricultural and irrigation utility – or as a work or installation containing dangerous forces.
“Dams may not be attacked when the release of water would lead to severe losses among the civilian population. Even valid military objectives situated on or near dams cannot be attacked if the impact would knowingly cause severe losses among the civilian population.”
“What is also clear at this stage is there was a wholesale failure to effectively warn civilians and minimise the severe losses they endured. Civilians living near the Kakhovka Dam were not warned of an impending attack and were even shelled as they attempted to evacuate flooded areas.”
The dam’s collapse occurred just a week after a law change in Russia prohibiting investigations into accidents at hydrotechnical structures resulting from military operations, sabotage, and terrorist activities in territories which Russia is occupying in Ukraine a fact with SMJY investigators believe is a ‘smoking gun’, said Ms Murdoch.
The dam’s collapse is believed to be the worst environmental disaster to hit Ukraine since the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986 and is likely to have a similar, generational impact on the local natural environment, with irrigation systems for over half a million hectares of land now disturbed, leaving hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians without drinking water.
Yousuf Syed Khan, GRC’s Senior Lawyer supporting the investigation, and part of the delegation visiting the site on 10 and 11 June, said a “floating death” now stalked the region.
He continued: “What we documented in Kherson is a horrific starvation crime. The reverberating effects of this attack are no doubt immense, far-reaching, and multigenerational, as entire industries and livelihoods related to agribusiness have been severely affected.
“The devastation wrought by this disaster cannot be overstated and will undoubtedly be felt for years to come as entire industries, from irrigation to agriculture, water, fishing, livestock, and several more, now face the widespread, long-term, and severe impacts.”