Dam damage submerges island community


Lyudmila Kulchok and her family have dinner in the floodlit courtyard of their home on an island in the Kakhovka Reservoir on the Dnipro River near Lysohirka, Ukraine. Photo / AP

The rising waters at first came as a relief, both to the small community living on islands in the southern Kakhovka reservoir and to all those who feared low levels would threaten a meltdown at a nearby Russian-occupied nuclear power plant. Was.

Since mid-February, there has been a steady rise in the water level in the reservoir, according to data from Theia, a French geospatial analytical organisation. An Associated Press analysis of satellite imagery showed that the water has now risen so high that it is flowing downstream of the damaged Russian-occupied dam.

The waves first covered the natural shoreline, and then submerged the marshy grass. Next, they came to the garden of Lyudmila Kulchok, then to the guest room of Ihor Medunov. Wild boars, replaced by waterfowl, fled for higher ground. Medunov’s four dogs have a small patch of grass to roam around in, and Kulchok serves food at a picnic table, sloshing through the murk at Vedder.

Flooded houses are seen in the island in the reservoir on the Dnieper River near Lysohirka, Ukraine.  Photo / AP
Flooded houses are seen in the island in the reservoir on the Dnieper River near Lysohirka, Ukraine. Photo / AP

Ukraine controls five of the six dams along the Dnipro River, which runs from its northern border with Belarus to the Black Sea and is vital to the entire country’s supply of drinking water and electricity. The last dam – downstream in the Kherson region – is controlled by the Russian military.


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David Helms, a retired meteorologist who monitored reservoir levels during the war, said most of Ukraine’s snow and runoff on rainy spring days goes into Kakhovka Reservoir here. Russian forces destroyed the Nova Kakhovka road and bridge deck last November, damaging some sluice gates, even though they kept control of that sliver of the Kherson region during the Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Now, either intentionally or due to neglect, the flow through the dam is not adjusting to the seasonal flow of the river.

Rivers act as dam systems. Helms said the idea is to manage flow to provide a constant water level — for shipping, for flood control for property, and to ensure enough water for intake pipes for drinking and irrigation. This is done mechanically with a combination of locks, turbines and sluice gates – and there is constant communication between the operators of the individual dams.

Due to the closure of the sluice gates, the water has reached a record level and is now moving upstream of the dam. But nowhere near as fast as the water flowing down. So there is some respite in sight for the handful of people left on the islands. The small community was mainly made up of second homes, but became more permanent with the start of the war, when people sought safety in its isolation.


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Their contact with the outside world is now limited to a few food deliveries each week by a Ukrainian police boat as the reservoir is off limits to any non-official watercraft, which is part of a basin that supplies around 40 percent of Ukraine’s drinking water. Protects against sabotage. Water.

They hear the sound of artillery and rockets being fired. They joke darkly about needing a mask and snorkel to take cover in the basement.

Mykola Gurzy, 74, a local fisherman, stands in the kitchen of his flooded home.  Photo / AP
Mykola Gurzy, 74, a local fisherman, stands in the kitchen of his flooded home. Photo / AP

“There were onions, garlic, greens. There were peaches, apricots. Everything is dead, ”Kulchok said, standing knee-deep in water in his vegetable garden. “At first I cried. But now I understand that my tears do not help.

Fish is the only thing that is now in abundance on the island. She caught the two floating in the kitchen as she prepared the traditional borscht soup with the chicken parts the police had given her earlier in the week.

“This is a war. Many people lose things in their lives. And then I thank God that all my loved ones are alive,” she said. She added that her son Bakhmut was at the center of the fight against Russia. There’s a soldier in the eastern city of K. “He hasn’t seen it and I don’t know how to show him. He will say, ‘Lord, how many years did we work to finish this?’

By early February, water levels were so low that many people across Ukraine and beyond feared a meltdown at the Russian-occupied Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, whose cooling system is supplied with water from the reservoir. Spring rains are quick and hard, and then mixed with melting snow.

“The Russians are not actively managing and balancing water flows,” Helms said. He compared it to a bucket with a small hole now being filled with a fire hose. Eventually the water spills over “almost like the emergency circuit breaker has been struck”.

Satellite images from 15 May showed water washing over the damaged sluice gates, as described by Hales.

All this is invisible and yet obvious to Ihor Medunov, whose yard is now a small patch of marsh grass. Even the neighbors who came to the island to avoid war have decided that missiles are likely better suited to endless flooding.

Hales said water levels are likely to drop gradually during the summer dry season. But it seems a distant future for Medunov, whose work as a hunting guide ended with the war.


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He said, ‘Now there is nowhere to go. “We will wait for better times to rebuild, repair. It’s really painful.”

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