Why the Evidence Suggests Russia Blew Up the Kakhovka Dam


Even in a struggle that has razed whole cities, the destruction of the Kakhovka hydroelectric dam in southern Ukraine stands out.

Hundreds of individuals have been displaced by flooding from one of many world’s largest reservoirs, which was very important for irrigating farmland thought-about the breadbasket of Europe. The catastrophe places world meals provides for thousands and thousands in danger and will threaten fragile ecosystems for many years.

The dam was visibly scarred by combating within the months earlier than the breach. Ukrainian strikes had broken one a part of the roadway over the dam, and retreating Russian troops later blew up one other. Final month, satellite tv for pc photos confirmed water flowing uncontrolled over among the gates.

This has led to solutions that the dam could have merely fallen sufferer to the accrued harm, which Russia has seized on to disclaim accountability.

However a number of strains of proof reviewed by The New York Occasions, from authentic engineering plans to interviews with engineers who research dam failures, assist a unique clarification: that the collapse of the dam was no accident. The catastrophic failure of its underlying concrete basis was most unlikely to happen by itself.

Given the satellite tv for pc and seismic detections of explosions within the space, by far the almost certainly explanation for the collapse was an explosive cost positioned within the upkeep passageway, or gallery, that runs by way of the concrete coronary heart of the construction, in keeping with two American engineers, an skilled in explosives and a Ukrainian engineer with in depth expertise with the dam’s operations.

“In case your goal is to destroy the dam itself, a big explosion could be required,” stated Michael W. West, a geotechnical engineer and skilled in dam security and failure evaluation, who’s a retired principal on the engineering agency Wiss, Janney, Elstner. “The gallery is a perfect place to place that explosive cost.”

A satellite tv for pc picture exhibiting the dam three days earlier than its destruction.

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Engineers cautioned that solely a full examination of the dam after the water drains from the reservoir can decide the exact sequence of occasions resulting in the destruction. Erosion from water cascading by way of the gates might have led to a failure if the dam have been poorly designed, or the concrete was substandard, however engineers referred to as that unlikely.

Ihor Strelets, an engineer who served because the deputy head of water sources for the Dnipro River from 2005 till 2018, stated that as a Chilly Conflict development mission, the dam’s basis was designed to resist virtually any type of exterior assault. Mr. Strelets stated he, too, had concluded that an explosion throughout the gallery destroyed a part of the concrete construction, and that different sections then have been torn away by the power of the water.

“I don’t need my idea to be right,” Mr. Strelets stated. A big explosion within the gallery would possibly imply the whole lack of the dam. “However that’s the solely clarification,” he stated.

Waking to Water

Within the predawn hours of June 6, residents residing near the dam in each Russian-controlled and Ukrainian-controlled territory heard explosions and unusual rumblings, they stated later.

They have been no strangers to the sounds of combating. For months, the 2 armies had traded artillery volleys throughout the Dnipro River. However this time appeared totally different — and shortly it was clear why.

For these closest to the dam, constructed within the Nineteen Fifties by the Soviet state, the push of water was virtually speedy. It took longer for the floods to make their approach farther downriver, however once they did, they got here quick after which didn’t start to subside for greater than every week.

“We stay on the fourth ground so it didn’t attain our condo, however the first ground was utterly flooded,” stated Vasyl, 64, who lives within the Russian-occupied east financial institution city of Hola Prystan, about 60 miles from the dam, and was reached by cellphone.

A flooded residential space within the Russian-occupied city of Hola Prystan.

Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

Neighbors and relations have sought refuge in his condo. “My sister’s home is totally washed out,” Vasyl stated. “It’s simply the partitions now, nothing inside, no furnishings, no home equipment.”

Most youthful folks within the city fled the Russian occupation way back, he stated, abandoning largely aged folks, together with many with disabilities. “Lots of them drowned, as they couldn’t depart their homes or climb to the roofs,” he stated. The demise toll from the flooding stays unknown; officers say the numbers are prone to rise because the waters recede.

A Prime Goal

The comparatively spindly sluice gates and cranes and the ribbon of roadway above the water line appeared to supply a simple goal for an assault aimed toward destroying the Kakhovka dam.

However a lot of the dam’s monumental mass was hidden under the floor of the water, in keeping with diagrams of the construction obtained by The Occasions and detailed descriptions by Mr. Strelets, who stated he has spent months on the Kakhovka dam and across the reservoir.

That mass consisted of a rounded tower of almost strong concrete some 20 meters excessive and as a lot as 40 meters thick on the backside, Mr. Strelets stated. Inbuilt sections, that colossal barrier ran between earthen embankments on both aspect of the channel and did a lot of the work of holding again the waters of the reservoir.

The sluice gates sat atop that barrier, opening and shutting to regulate the water degree. Visible proof assembled by The Occasions exhibits clear harm to the roadway and to a couple of the sluice gates on one aspect of the channel within the months earlier than the breach of the dam.

Regardless of that harm and a whitewater cascade tumbling from the neighborhood of these gates, engineers stated the foundering of a complete part of the dam was extra prone to be associated to the blasts picked up by seismic sensors and to an infrared sign that U.S. officers stated was picked up by a satellite tv for pc, indicating the warmth of an explosion.

The seismic indicators have been picked up on two sensors, one in Romania and one in Ukraine, and occurred at 2:35 a.m. and a couple of:54 a.m. Ukraine time, stated Ben Dando, a seismologist at Norsar, a Norwegian group that focuses on seismology and seismic monitoring. The indicators have been each according to an explosion, Dr. Dando stated — and never, say, the collapse of the dam by itself.

He stated that the community might decide the time of an explosion to inside a few seconds, however that the placement of the blasts was much less sure. For instance, Norsar might find the two:54 a.m. sign to have originated inside a zone 20 or 30 kilometers throughout that included the dam.

A selected time stamp for the infrared sign was not accessible, however a senior U.S. navy official stated that it was picked up shortly earlier than the dam collapsed.

A senior American navy official stated that america had dominated out an exterior assault on the dam, like a missile, bomb or another projectile, and now assesses that the explosion got here from a number of fees set inside it, almost certainly by Russian operatives.

Floodwaters reached the rooftops of homes in Kherson, about 40 miles downstream from the dam.

Daniel Berehulak/The New York Occasions

Gregory B. Baecher, an engineering professor on the College of Maryland and a member of the Nationwide Academy of Engineers, additionally stated the dimensions of the breach indicated that the underlying concrete barrier had failed, suggesting that fees had been set deep within the construction.

“In the event that they put explosives within the gallery, that might clarify quite a bit,” Professor Baecher stated. A big explosion there, he stated, “would simply rip up all of the concrete construction.”

Nick Glumac, an engineering professor and explosives skilled on the College of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, stated the dimensions of the required cost might differ broadly relying on the precise approach during which the explosives have been set and the exact goal.

“It’s price remembering that you simply don’t need to pulverize the dam part, simply break it sufficient such that the water stress is sufficient to tear it away,” Professor Glumac stated.

Nonetheless, Professor Glumac stated that primarily based on diagrams of the dam and the most recent imagery of the destroyed basis, “It’s exhausting for me to see how something apart from an inner explosion within the passageway might account for the harm.” He added, “That’s an enormous quantity of concrete to maneuver.”

Utilizing the gallery may need one other benefit for anybody in search of to cover their tracks. In response to Mr. Strelets, the gallery had solely two entrances, together with one contained in the machine room positioned in a constructing to 1 aspect of the dam.

Dr. West, who can be a former Military fight engineer officer, famous that might enable the dam to be rigged out of sight of spy satellites, drones or witnesses on the bottom. Early morning drone footage confirmed that the preliminary breach within the dam occurred not removed from the machine room.

A satellite tv for pc picture exhibiting the dam a day after its collapse.

Maxar Applied sciences

Professor Baecher stated it was potential, although unlikely, that water movement from the broken gates someway undermined the concrete construction the place it sat on the riverbed. However he stated an examination of the drawings indicated that the design had protected in opposition to that chance with normal measures. A kind of is a so-called “apron” of concrete on high of the riverbed to the downstream aspect of the dam.

“This seems to be a well-engineered dam of recent design,” he stated.

For its half, the corporate that operated the dam stated in an announcement to The Occasions on June 16 that “Russian forces made an inner explosion which resulted in destroying the dam.” That explosion, the corporate stated, “caused uncontrolled launch of water from the reservoir and disastrous improve of water degree within the downstream.”

A Dam within the Cross Hairs

The ravages of the dam because the Russians invaded Ukraine have been captured many times from overhead and on the bottom.

As Russian troops have been retreating throughout the Dnipro River in November 2022, they blew up the roadway atop the construction’s northern finish. A surveillance digicam captured the highly effective nighttime explosion. Satellite tv for pc photos present that the power of the blast destroyed the roadway, however that the dam’s basis and the partitions of the gates at that part of the dam have been unaffected. They continue to be standing at this time.

The Occasions obtained very high-resolution satellite tv for pc imagery that additionally exhibits harm to a different part of the roadway within the days and weeks earlier than the dam’s collapse. On June 1, or early on June 2, a part of the highway that runs alongside the dam collapsed. Ukrainian HIMARS rocket strikes in August 2022 broken that a part of the highway however didn’t hit the dam.

On April 23, a small a part of a wall related to the facility plant collapsed — potential proof of abrasion close to the dam.

Ukrainian HIMARS

rocket strikes

Russian destruction

of roadway

Further roadway


Ukrainian HIMARS

rocket strikes

Russian destruction

of roadway

Further roadway


Ukrainian HIMARS

rocket strikes

Russian destruction

of roadway

Further roadway


Sources: Supernova+ by way of Telegram, Maxar Applied sciences, Pléiades Neo Airbus DS 2023.

Moreover, the cranes that management the discharge of water by way of the dam had not been moved since mid-November, permitting water to movement unchecked out of the identical gates over a interval of a number of months. This lack of regulation led the water degree of the reservoir to succeed in its lowest level in a long time in February, then hit a 30-year excessive in Might, simply weeks earlier than the dam’s destruction.

Neither this earlier harm, nor the stress brought on by the excessive water degree or the static place of the cranes is prone to have triggered the collapse of the dam’s concrete basis, consultants stated, except the concrete was of low high quality and already susceptible to deteriorate. The massive flows would even be inadequate to undermine the dam’s basis except, for some purpose, the concrete apron — the downstream cowl positioned over the river backside — contained flaws or the soil was a lot softer than accounted for within the design.

A video that emerged this week, after water ranges had dropped, offers clear proof of the catastrophic failure. It exhibits that the highest of the concrete basis, not simply the gates, was destroyed.

Supply: Milinfolive by way of Telegram

Mr. Strelets, the engineer, referred to as the gallery the Achilles’ heel of the Kakhovka dam. He stated he hoped a cost had not been put there, as a result of the harm could be irreparable.

“I walked alongside this dam many occasions,” he stated. “I used to be happy with it. It’s the property of my nation. I by no means even imagined that somebody would try to destroy it.”

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