June 7, 2023

Sitrep for Jun. 6-7, 2023 (as of 08:30 a.m.)

Destruction of the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant

In addition to the previous sitrep, we note that the explosions near the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant (Kakhovka HPP) facilities, in the water and along the riverside were caused not by shelling, but by mines that were carried away by the current. Residents of Nova Kakhovka began to report these explosions a little after 2:00 a.m. The chaotic movement of mines previously laid along the riverside is another consequence of the dam failure, in addition to the flooding of territories and difficulties with water supply to several regions. Mine clearing of these areas can be problematic since they are going to be covered with silt.

As it was predicted, the RuAF positions were affected by flooding to a greater extent, and Russian forces have to evacuate urgently. These positions were used for hitting the right bank of the Dnipro and countering sabotage groups crossing the river. Let us recall that there was no talk of fording the Dnipro and a subsequent offensive by either side.

On the right bank, presumably, the Ostriv [Korabel] neighborhood in Kherson will suffer the most from flooding. As far as we know, the population has already been evacuated from there.

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy stated that the breach of the dam will not affect the ability of Ukraine to de-occupy its territories.

Igor Strelkov [Girkin], a former Russian separatist commander and military blogger, presented his vision of the situation. In his opinion, the Kakhovka HPP was undermined by Ukraine and it will have the following consequences:

  • destroying the RuAF base on the left bank (which is actually happening);
  • creating conditions for the liberation of Kinburn Spit and unblocking the Ochakiv seaport (if the spit is flooded, it can turn into an island, allowing the Armed Forces of Ukraine to clear it. However, when the water level decreases, Russian forces can once again occupy the spit and block the port);
  • ​​creating conditions for fording the Dnipro River above Nova Kakhovka after the water level decreases (this claim is doubtful because the Dnipro River will still be too wide for fording, and moreover, flooding will lead to the marshification of the banks due to the deposited silt).

In a video captured by a witness near the building of, supposedly, the main generator hall of the Kakhovka HPP after the dam was destroyed, a gantry crane can be seen standing just behind the building. Such cranes are used for opening and closing the spillway gates.

One of the commentators, comparing the photos before and after, concludes that the breach occurred in two places: near the spillway gates and near the main generator hall of the hydroelectric power plant. According to him, this could not have happened simultaneously by coincidence.

However, this argument is refuted by a video taken by Russian soldiers with a thermal camera on Jun. 6 at 2:46 a.m. It can be seen that the dam is already destroyed, but the main generator hall (next to which the power pylon is located) is still intact, and the water level is much lower than the hall. Thus, it can be considered proven that the breach near the spillway gates occurred before the degradation of the main generator hall.

The main version, according to our team’s opinion, is that there were no explosions on the night of Jun. 5 to 6, and the dam was destroyed due to criminal negligence of the Russian forces. We arrived at this conclusion by comparing Sentinel, Planet, and Maxar satellite images since the fall of 2022.

  • In an image taken on Nov. 10 (when Russian forces were still present on the right bank of the Dnipro River, controlling the hydroelectric power plant, and the road above it was intact), two gantry cranes can be seen at various points along the dam closer to the left bank. Water is being discharged under one of them.
  • In an image from Nov. 11 (when Russian troops officially left the right bank of the Dnipro River and a powerful explosion occurred at the Kakhovka HPP, destroying the road above the dam closer to the right bank), the gantry cranes were moved to the main generator hall near the right bank and were positioned close to each other. No water discharge is visible.
  • In an image taken on Nov. 15, the cranes are still located near the main generator hall but at some distance from each other. Water discharge is visible beneath them.
  • In all subsequent images until Jun. 5, the cranes remained in the same positions, and water discharge continued through the same spillway gates. From this, we concluded that since Nov. 15, Russian forces did not regulate the water level in the reservoir.
  • In an image from May 28, the cranes are in the same positions, water discharge is ongoing, and there are minor damages on the bypass road (likely as a result of an AFU attack).
  • An image from May 31 shows the same picture. In an image from Jun. 2, it is evident that a section of the road above the open spillway gates collapsed, and by Jun. 4, the resulting sinkhole had widened.
  • An image from Jun. 5 provides a more detailed view of the collapsed road section.
The image from Nov. 11
The image from Jun. 5

All of this leads us to the conclusion that the damages to the dam accumulated over a long period of time rather than occurred in a single day due to sabotage.

Therefore, as a result of the cumulative damage, the dam collapsed on the night of Jun. 5 to 6. The structure collapsed in stages: first, the water breached the dam around the open spillway gates, and then, under the pressure of the water flow, a section of the main generator hall collapsed.

In addition to satellite images, there are other data that indirectly support our hypothesis. The water level measurements in the Kakhovka Reservoir based on satellite images indicate that water level fluctuation intensified during the fall of 2022. At the beginning of the year, there was a sharp decrease to abnormally low levels, followed by an equally sharp rise to a record-high by Jun. 2023, attributed to spring floods and rainfall. It is also noteworthy that the last week before the dam failure was rainy.

Attention to this situation has been previously drawn in a number of publications. In Feb. 2023, the US National Public Radio (NPR), citing satellite images, stated that Russia is draining the Kakhovka Reservoir, which poses a threat to the safety of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, as well as the water supply of several settlements and agricultural enterprises. The water level reached its lowest point in the last three decades. At the same time, the Zaporizhzhia District Military Administration published a statement that as a result of the draining of the Kakhovka Reservoir, Enerhodar, Melitopol, and Berdiansk may face water shortages. The Russian authorities, who control these cities, ignored the problem.

In April, Roman Tkachuk, head of the Department of Municipal Safety of the Kyiv City State Administration, stated that the Kakhovka HPP is "not operating at full technological capacity," making it more difficult to maintain the water level in the Dnipro River, and combined with snowmelt and heavy rainfall, this led to flooding in Kyiv.

On May 4, news emerged from the leader of the We Are Together with Russia' movement, collaborator Volodymyr Rohov, that a dam breach near the town of Kamianka-Dniprovska due to the record-high water level in the Kakhovka Reservoir could threaten the flooding of thousands of households in the Zaporizhzhia region. According to him, this is partly due to continuous rainfall over several weeks, and the water discharge from the reservoir downstream of the Dnipro River is complicated by damages to the Kakhovka HPP.

Although it is our view that this consolidated data strongly supports the theory that the dam collapse was not caused by intentional sabotage, the blame nevertheless squarely rests with Russia, as it was responsible for safeguarding the occupied territory’s infrastructure. This accident resulted either from criminal inaction alone (which is considered an intentional act under Russian criminal law) or in combination with the destruction of the road that traversed the dam, which was carried out in November when Russian forces withdrew from the Dnipro River’s right bank.

Frontline Situation Update

Rybar, a pro-Russian Telegram channel, is reporting that Ukrainian forces made another attempt at entering Novodonetske on Jun. 6 (attacks had been previously reported on Jun. 4). No evidence for the attacks has been presented thus far.

The Kharkiv region was struck again by Russian forces, including with S-300 SAM missiles. In total, two people were killed and eleven were injured. The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine is asserting that the strikes damaged the Tolyatti-Odesa ammonia pipeline, which is an integral part of the grain deal negotiations between Turkey and Ukraine (Russia has been requesting the reopening of the pipeline to resume ammonia exports).

We do not have any information on the situation in Novaya Tavolzhanka, Belgorod region (the Russian Volunteer Corps claimed to control the entire village on the evening of Jun. 5). We have not come across any new reports of combat engagements, photos, videos, or statements from the Russian Volunteer Corps. Belgorod region Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov is asserting that there is no enemy presence within the region, including in this village.

The Russian Ministry of Defense has released combat helicopter footage purportedly showing the destruction of Ukrainian military vehicles, including Leopard tanks. Based on the exchanges between the pilot and navigator, it becomes evident that they did not understand what they were shooting at. It was later discovered that they had, in fact, shot at John Deere combine harvesters and sprayers. 

The pro-Russian Telegram channel FighterBomber [associated with the Russian Air and Space Force] initially published a cheerful post praising the destruction of Leopard tanks but later informed that the video was from last year.

Russia’s Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu admitted losses on Russia’s side. In particular, he stated that 71 Russian troops had been killed and 210 more wounded when repelling the Ukrainian offensive; also, 15 tanks and 9 infantry fighting vehicles had been hit. As experts, we must present and discuss statements from both sides, but we think that unreliable figures from the Russian MoD are not worth much attention.

An Iranian Mohajer-6 drone used by the Russian military has been shot down in Crimea as a result of friendly fire.

The Financial Times has asked President of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić his opinion regarding the US government reports that Serbian ammunition ended up in Ukraine via intermediaries. Vučić is aware that some of the Serbian-made arms might end up in Ukraine. He has also reminded that Serbia joined all the European resolutions and bans on re-export of dual-use technology to Russia.