Occupied Kherson Region: Current State

November 2, 2022
What provocations may the Russian occupiers have in store in Kherson Region, and what do Russian martial law and evacuations in these territories mean?

UkraineWorld asked Oleh Baturin, journalist from  the Kherson newspaper "Noviy Den" and the author of investigations at the Center for Journalistic Investigations. Key points - in our brief, #UkraineWorldAnalysis

1. On the situation around Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant

  • The Russian military is threatening to blow up the dam of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant and, as usual, accuse the Ukrainian military of the act. However, this story isn't new. Information about Russians mining the facilities of the hydroelectric power plant and territories around it has been circulating since spring.
  • The Russians have even forced employees of captured local factories to dig trenches around the hydroelectric power plant to lay explosives.
  • Russians have started to drain water from the Kakhovka reservoir. But this story isn't new, either. They already did so in May. This  led to flooding, with a park area in Nova Kakhovka having flooded and the water level of  the Konka River having risen.

    There has been a great deal of caremongering about devastating floods around Kherson Region in the event of the dam blowing up.

  • The occupation administration in Nova Kakhovka has even frightened local people with threats of a huge wave that will wash away the whole city. But this is not realistic. Both the city and the hydroelectric power plant itself were designed to minimize possible damage from a nuclear war. Therefore, Nova Kakhovka is at risk of only partial flooding, including some houses near the banks of the river.
  • If the Kakhovka HPP dam is destroyed, some populated areas along the coastline on the left bank of the Dnieper and in the steppe zone of the left bank will be flooded, since these are lowlands. The settlements located there have always had a hard time dealing with rises in water levels, precipitation, etc. There, the water level could rise very seriously. However, it will not be a sudden wave, but a gradual process.
  • The Russians occupiers are using threats over the demolition of the Kakhovka HPP as a pretext for evacuation. However, there is a serious inconsistency here, as the Russians are carrying out evacuations on the right bank of the Dnipro in Kherson Region, which is located higher than the left bank part. Thus, heavy flooding is impossible in the areas they are evacuating. Perhaps only coastal river areas will be slightly affected.

    If the Kakhovka HPP dam is blown up, the biggest damage will be sustained by the Zaporizhzhya NPP. That's where the real threat is.

  • One of the main functions of the Kakhovka reservoir is not only the operation of the Kakhovka HPP, but also to provide water for the ZNPP's cooling systems. A drop in the water level in the Kakhovka reservoir will make the operation of the ZNPP impossible.
  • The occupiers constantly make mention of the North Crimean Canal, saying that they can't blow up the Kakhovka HPP because the Kakhovka reservoir supplies Crimea with water. But it's necessary to remember that from autumn to spring, the North Crimean Canal is always blocked, and water is never supplied in winter. Therefore, the North Crimean Canal is not a valid factor in their decision-making.
  • Despite Russian claims, it's completely obvious that the Ukrainian Armed Forces aren't going to blow up the Kakhovka HPP. Even if they wanted to, it's technically impossible. Let's look how difficult it is to shell the bridges in the region (Antonivskyi bridge, the bridge over the Kakhovka gateway and over the Kakhovka HPP) that are legitimate military targets for Ukrainian artillery. What is there to say about the Kakhovka HPP dam? I can't even imagine how much shelling it would take and how many days it would have to last uninterrupted in order to destroy the dam.

2. On the current state of the occupiers

  • The constant mentions of provocations and evacuations aren't a sign of the occupiers' disorientation or confusion. All these actions and rhetoric appear to be a planned massive campaign whose aims are clear only to those who designed it. Some local collaborators can be frightened or confused by the Ukrainian counteroffensive, but definitely not all of them.
  • Accusing the Ukrainian military of all these provocations is part of a propaganda campaign in order to justify or explain the logic of their actions. Even their evacuations are used to explain the relocation of occupation administrations to the left bank and to move more Russian troops to the left bank in order to strengthen their positions.
  • The Russians are going to fight for the right bank and Kherson in general. This much is clear. A large number of Russians troops keep arriving there. There are no signs of them retreating or fleeing. There are a huge number of them.

3. On martial law in the occupied territories

  • The so-called martial law imposed by Putin in the occupied territories changes things for people there. It provides a formal legal basis to deprive people of their property. Before this step, there were cases when Russian soldiers took people's houses, even evicting people, but this was done on an ad-hoc basis. Now, it has  become systemic. They are confiscating people's houses on the left bank on an impressive scale.
  • The reasons for these actions are evident. Large number of administrative buildings have been destroyed. The occupiers also understand that being in administrative buildings is dangerous for them, since they are easy targets there. That is why they are spreading out around the area. Moreover, by locating themselves in Ukrainians' houses, they are using  human shield tactics.
  • Russians are also confiscating people's cars. For example, in the town of Boryslav, they took away cars that can carry more than 5 people on a large scale.

This material was prepared with financial support from the International Renaissance Foundation.

Oleh Baturin, journalist from  the Kherson newspaper "Noviy Den" and the author of investigations at  the Center for Journalistic Investigations