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EDITORIAL | Russia's Destruction of Critical Ukraine Dam Another War Crime

Russia's invasion of Ukraine is itself a war crime, and it has in turn spawned new war crimes, including the threat of nuclear damage from the destroyed dam.



The Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant dam caves in at Kherson, southern Ukraine. Photo taken on June 6. (© Reuters)

Destruction of dams and endangerment of nuclear power plants are war crimes that violate Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions. That is a pillar of international humanitarian law (international law of war). Russia's invasion and occupation of Ukraine have made such a terrifying situation a reality. It is totally unacceptable conduct on the part of Moscow.

A blast destroyed the dam at the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant in the Dnipro River basin in southern Ukraine. Residents downstream have begun evacuating to escape the resulting floodwaters.

The flooding and shutdown of the hydroelectric plant alone have created a dangerous situation. But of even greater concern is the threat to the safety of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, one of the largest in Europe. 

Kherson Oblast, in southern Ukraine is flooded after the hydroelectric dam collapsed, releasing water from the massive reservoir behind it. Photo of June 8 (© Reuters/Kyodo)

What's Involved

The surface area of the Kakhovka Reservoir backed up behind this dam is more than three times the size of Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest lake. And the volume of water in the reservoir is 18 cubic kilometers, which is two-thirds the volume of Lake Biwa.

The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, located about 200 km upstream from the dam, is situated on the reservoir's banks and draws its cooling water from it. There are concerns that a drop in the water level of the reservoir may hinder the plant's ability to secure adequate cooling water.

Residents move by boat through a flooded residential area in Kherson, southern Ukraine, on June 8. (© Reuters = Kyodo)

Russia Expands Nuclear Risks

Since this nuclear power plant was occupied by the Russian military, it has been converted into a fortified position. Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency has been monitoring conditions at the power plant. Although IAEA says that there is no immediate threat to the safety of the plant, the situation does not warrant such optimism. After all, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi is making a hurried trip to Ukraine.

At an emergency open meeting of the United Nations Security Council, Ukraine and Russia each claimed that the other had destroyed the dam. This led to an exchange of accusations and calls for compensation.

The proposition that the Ukrainian side has a motive to destroy the dam is difficult to accept. After all, it would cause significant damage to its own country and could hinder a counteroffensive against Russia.

There were reports in October 2022 that the Russian military had rigged the dam with explosives. And there are strong suspicions that the Russians blasted the dam to repel the Ukrainian military's counteroffensive through the flooding and the specter of a nuclear accident.

In a residential area in Russia-controlled Kherson, southern Ukraine, residents are rescued from floodwaters when the Kherson hydroelectric dam collapses. (June 9, © Reuters via Kyodo)

Ending the War Crimes

We must uncover the truth and punish those responsible for these war crimes.

At an emergency open meeting of the UN Security Council, Western nations condemned Russia. They pointed out that Russia's aggression against Ukraine was also the root cause of the dam's destruction.

That is an incontrovertible fact. 


Russia's invasion of Ukraine is itself a war crime, and it has in turn spawned new war crimes.

Russian President Vladimir Putin should immediately withdraw all his troops to Russia.


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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