Ukraine: Footage from the destruction at Kakhovka dam
In the early hours of Tuesday, June 6, the Nova Kakhovka dam collapsed into Dnipro River.
Footage taken just days before showed that the road that skimmed across the top of the dam was slightly damaged, but nothing near the state it was in as it crumbled apart.
Its destruction has already caused mayhem in Ukraine, flooding nearby towns and cities, and destroying a whole ecosystem.
Many warn that some areas will be without proper drinking water for years. The challenge to recoup from such a disaster would be tremendous in peacetime let alone in the midst of a conflict.
While a first in the conflict, the scenes that played out on the river are not entirely dissimilar to those more than 82 years ago, when Russia was Soviet Russia, led by Joseph Stalin.
On August 28, 1941, Stalin ordered the destruction of the Dnieper dam — the ‘Lenin dam’ — which fed the Dneprostroi power plant, in order to stop the charge of Nazi Germany. Adolf Hitler’s army had at that point swept into the country, the Soviets desperate to fend off the attacking forces and starve them of any industry they might capture.
Solomon Lozovsky, a Soviet spokesman, at the time, told reporters: “We blew up the Dnieper dam so as not to allow this first child of the Soviet five-year Plan to fall into the hands of Hitler’s bandits. All measures were taken so as not to permit the Germans to make use of the dam and machinery.”
Stalin’s secret police carried out the act, in doing so killing anywhere between 20,000 and 100,000 people in the ensuing floods.
Villages and settlements along the river were immediately swallowed up, the tidal surge killing unsuspecting civilians as well as Red Army officers who were either in the area or trying to cross the river.
Oleksiy Dotsenko, a survivor of the attack, previously told the television channel 1+1 of the pure tragedy of the day.
“People were screaming for help. Cows were mooing, pigs were squealing. People were climbing on trees,” he recalled in 2009.
In 2013, local Zaporizhzhia residents and activists accused the local authorities of glossing over the disaster in a Soviet-style cover-up by refusing to honour the victims with public displays and memorials. This is despite a memorial, near the hydroelectric station which is still in use, which pays tribute to the soldiers who defended the facility during World War 2.
While officials said they acknowledged the untimely deaths of those caught up in the dam’s destruction, they said it was a necessary measure to save countless more lives during the war.
At the time, Oleksiy Baburin, the head of the Ukrainian Communist Party’s regional branch, told Radio Free Europe: “There was no one at the time to defend Zaporizhzhia. We had very few soldiers. There were almost no NKVD troops (secret police) or military regiments who could have stopped the Germans. This is why blowing up DniproHES allowed for the evacuation to continue.”
Many historians, however, reject the claims and say the operation was poorly timed and that Nazi troops had no immediate plans to seize the city.
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One, Vladyslav Moroko, says Boris Epov and Aleksandr Petrovsky, the two men in charge of the mission, rushed the dam’s explosion because they were scared of Stalin.
He told RFE: “In reality, Epov and his subordinates were concerned less by the possible German invasion of Zaporizhzhya than by the fact that they may not be able to carry out Stalin’s order.
“They were afraid that DniproHES would be captured and that they would not be able to carry out Stalin’s order.”
The exact cause of the Nova Kakhovka dam is as of yet unclear. Both Russia and Ukraine have pointed the finger at one another.
While Andriy Yermak, Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s chief of staff, told the Guardian “he did not understand” how there could be any doubt about Russian forces blowing the dam up, Russia said otherwise.
Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesperson, denied Russian involvement. He blamed Ukraine, calling it an act of “sabotage” that would starve the Crimean peninsula of water.
Some say that in destroying the dam, Moscow hopes to stall Ukraine’s counter-offensive and restrict its access to the other side of the river and Russian-held territory.
But why exactly would Russia carry out such an antiquated attack, one witnessed 82 years ago?
Jason Jay Smart, a political analyst working in Ukraine, told Express.co.uk that Russia’s tactics are very much “old school” and “amateurish”.
He said: “In a derogatory sense, yes, they do act like a country from 20 years ago — their strategies are really like that.
“They act like an imperialist, colonialist military: just sending people into battle to die. They don’t care what happens to them. Their model for warfare hasn’t changed in over 100 years.”
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