As the consequences of the Kakhovka dam destruction continue to unfold, the occupying Russian forces have been endangering lives in flood-afflicted areas following the destruction of the dam, while upstream water shortages and an upheaval of livelihoods point to an impending ecological and economic disaster, Amnesty International said today.
Civilians not evacuated by occupying authorities in Russian-held regions
Amnesty International has spoken to volunteers and evacuees from the flooded areas and their relatives, whose testimonies consistently indicate that occupying Russian forces have failed to carry out organized evacuations or provide crucial humanitarian support to civilians stranded in flooded towns and villages. Civilians in flooded areas have reported that those without Russian passports are being forced to undergo the humiliating and intrusive ‘filtration’ screening process.
The rescue operations that have taken place have been mostly conducted by volunteers, some of whom told Amnesty International that occupying Russian forces have obstructed their access to flooded areas, which has severely hampered their efforts to assist civilians affected by flooding.
“While a disaster of this scale requires a robust response, the occupying Russian forces have displayed a callous disregard for human life and human dignity by manifestly focusing almost exclusively on their own security needs. Their failing to undertake an organized evacuation, blocking volunteers’ efforts to support civilians affected by the floods and taking evacuees without Russian passports through ‘filtration’ violate their obligations as the occupying power and endanger lives,” said Anna Wright, Amnesty International’s Regional Researcher.
A source in the town of Oleshky reported that after locals moved several families to higher ground, they were left there for at least two days, while the Russians instead of evacuating them placed armed personnel around this makeshift island’s periphery.
“The occupying Russian forces must urgently fulfil their obligations under international law by organizing the safe and dignified evacuation of civilians from flooded areas under their control. They also must allow volunteers and international rescue teams to deliver humanitarian aid and evacuate civilians from flood-afflicted regions,” said Anna Wright.
Civilians in occupied territories unable to contact relatives
Reporting from the Russian-occupied territories has been sparse. Direct contact with the affected communities remains extremely limited and dangerous for those who share information with human rights organizations and international media outlets.
Since the beginning of the invasion, Russian forces have replaced Ukrainian mobile networks in the areas they occupied. People stranded in flooded areas with poor mobile signal, drained batteries, and without electricity have been struggling to communicate with relatives. This is compounded by concerns over the safety of communication and the risks to those who provide information about the situation in Russian-occupied areas.
“It is unnerving trying to reach out to people stranded in the flooded Russian-occupied villages and towns. Speaking via Russian networks is risky and our sources are all too aware of reprisals they may face for talking to us,” said Anna Wright, Amnesty International’s researcher.
A severe humanitarian and ecological crisis
While flooding in areas downstream of the dam has profoundly worsened the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion, it has direct disastrous effects upstream as well, leaving communities in desperate need of water and access to crucial aid.
A source in the area on Dnipro’s right bank told Amnesty International: “The explosion of Kakhovka dam has caused two catastrophes: the flooding in the areas down from it and the drought in the areas above.”
“In riverside communities in Dnipro region, there has been no water for five days. Volunteers have distributed five litres per person, but the question is: how long should it last for? A day, a week, a month? … Everyone has mobilized to support the flooded communities but people struggling from thirst is just as terrifying,” the source said.
The flooding has already proved disastrous for agriculture in affected regions – both downstream and upstream. For those who rely on farming for their income, the destruction of the dam has led to an economic crisis, as well as ecological ruin.
In Grushivka Village, in the Dnipro region, grapevines are dying as there is no water to replenish them. Owners of small agricultural businesses in the region, who have already faced severe economic hardships since the start of the invasion, are set to lose their livelihoods as they are now unable to grow and sell produce due to a lack of water.
Flooding in Mykolaiv and Kherson regions has also dramatically complicated efforts to clear landmines. The inundated terrain remains inaccessible in many places, and there are fears that mines and other unexploded ordnance have been transported by floodwaters to previously safe areas and that layers of sediment have buried mines, making them harder to find.
“Prior to this disaster, the challenge of ridding Ukraine of landmines was already immense. The international community must do all in its power to help clear landmines from flood-afflicted regions, which is a crucial step in the long process of making agricultural land in the area safe for farmers to use,” said Anna Wright.
“Those responsible for destroying the Kakhovka dam must be brought to justice, as should anyone responsible for crimes under international law committed in Ukraine. Meanwhile saving lives and livelihoods, and preventing further deaths and disasters is paramount.”
*Name changed to protect identity