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The Nova Kakhovka Dam Destruction will have a Global Ecological Impact

Mark Temnycky explores the consequences on global food supplies of what appears to be yet another example of the Kremlin’s ecological terrorism

80,000 hectares of land from Nova Kakhovka to Dniprovsko-Buhskyi Lyman have already been destroyed. Photo: Kostiantyn Liberov and Vlada Liberova

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On Monday 5 June, Russian forces destroyed the Nova Kakhovka dam. Located in southern Ukraine, the dam contains a vast reservoir of water used to supply the Crimean peninsula, as well as the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant – the largest in Europe. The Nova Kakhovka hydropower plant itself is also one of the world’s largest dams in terms of reservoir capacity. (For comparison purposes, the Nova Kakhovka Dam is almost as large as the Hoover Dam located in the United States.)

The destruction of the dam has been catastrophic. As the dam collapsed, dozens of nearby towns were flooded. Thousands of Ukrainian residents in this occupied part of the country have evacuated their homes, and hundreds of animals have died from the flooding. Simply put, it could be one of the largest eco-disasters on the European continent.

These events are just the latest examples of atrocities committed by the Russians during their unjust war. Throughout the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the invaders have participated in numerous cases of ecological warfare.

For generations, Ukraine has been referred to as the “breadbasket of Europe” due to its rich soil. This Eastern European state is home to some of the world’s most fertile land, known as chernozem or black earth. Ukraine is ranked seventh internationally in wheat production, and it is one of the world’s top food producers. Thus, there is a heavy reliance on Ukrainian food and grain exports globally.

But now, Russia is attempting to diminish Ukraine’s status in the world. During its ongoing war, the Russians destroyed Ukraine’s farmlands. The invasion has also significantly impacted the agricultural sector and environment.

For example, in the occupied regions of southern and eastern Ukraine, Russian soldiers have set fire to Ukrainian wheatfields in these regions. The perpetrators have posted videos on social media of their actions. In addition, constant shelling of Ukrainian territory has destroyed the terrain. Various plots of land have become unfarmable. Destroyed factories and plants have led to hazardous materials entering the ground and nearby waterways. These contaminations also prevent residents from using the area to plant crops, and they cannot drink the water. Simply put, not only have the Russians brought death, starvation, and destruction to the Ukrainian people, but they are also destroying entire ecosystems across the country.

In addition, reports have claimed that the Russians are “stealing grain and other produce” from farms in the occupied regions. Some analysts estimate that the Russians have taken “hundreds of thousands of tons of grain” from Ukraine, and this has had a significant impact on the global food crisis in parts of Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia.

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Finally, smoke emanating from destroyed buildings, military equipment, and wildfires have increased air pollution in Ukraine. The United Nations predicts that this will lead to the “degradation of [Ukrainian] ecosystems,” and will “raise the carbon footprint in the region.” It would also put the region at “higher risk of climate change-related disaster.”

The war’s socio-economic and environmental impacts on Ukraine have been devastating. The recent flooding caused by the collapse of the Nova Kakhovka dam is now the latest example of Russia’s eco-warfare. Satellite imagery shows that entire regions are flooded.

According to reports, “tens of thousands of hectares of agricultural land in southern Ukraine” are flooded in the nearby parts of the Nova Kakhovka dam. As a result, this makes the land unusable, and will only further contribute to food shortages. In addition, oil and other chemicals have spilt into the reservoir. This could lead to the contamination of the ecosystem in the area.

In other words, the developments near the Nova Kakhovka dam have been catastrophic. But there could be additional grave consequences. According to documents exclusively provided to the Byline Times by the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, water levels in the area have risen rapidly by dozens of centimetres.

“The water level in the Dnipro River is gradually rising,” the document read. At the time of writing, 11 villages are at risk.

In addition, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense stated that it is concerned about the potential impact the flooding could have on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (ZNNP).

“The water level in the Kakhovka reservoir is rapidly decreasing,” the document stated. This will result in an “additional threat to the temporarily occupied Zaporizhzhia NPP. Water from the Kakhovka Reservoir is necessary for the station to receive power for turbine capacitors and safety systems of the ZNPP.”

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At this time, workers at the ZNNP are monitoring the situation. Representatives from the International Atomic Energy Agency are also at the plant and monitoring the area. The destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam would pose a serious risk to an already damaged ZNNP. If a nuclear meltdown occurred, this would resort in a nuclear catastrophe far worse than the 1986 Chornobyl catastrophe.

Over the past few months, the Russians have fired shells at the plant, damaging buildings in the process. Should water levels continue to rise in the area due to the destroyed dam, this would pose a serious threat to the ZNNP.

For now, authorities are monitoring the situation around the destroyed dam and the ZNNP. But the damage already caused by Russia’s latest atrocious act shows that the Russians do not regard Ukrainian lives or their environment. Thousands of Ukrainian lives have been put at risk due to the collapse of the Nova Kakhovka dam, thousands of hectares of agricultural land are unusable, and millions around the globe continue to face world hunger.

Given the recent events, it is imperative that the international community interview and aid Ukraine with these disasters. Otherwise, should the Russians continue these tactics, millions of more lives will be put in harm’s way, Ukraine’s agricultural sector and environment will be destroyed, and global food supplies will be impacted for years.

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