Maxar satellite imagery BEFORE the damage to the Nova Kakhovka Dam in Ukraine. Please use: Satellite image (c) 2023 Maxar Technologies.
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WASHINGTON — An international team of investigators said in a new report Thursday that it is “highly likely Russian forces deliberately destroyed” the Kakhovka dam in southern Ukraine.
“We find there is a high probability the collapse of the dam was caused by pre-emplaced explosives positioned at critical points within its structure,” explained Catriona Murdoch, a lawyer and expert in starvation-related crimes.
Murdoch, who was part of one of the first delegations to arrive at the site, added the attack on the dam may constitute a war crime.
“Dams may not be attacked when the release of water would lead to severe losses among the civilian population. Even valid military objectives situated on or near dams cannot be attacked if the impact would knowingly cause severe losses among the civilian population,” Murdoch said.
Both Russia and Ukraine have placed the blame squarely on each other for the explosion at the dam.
The predawn attack on the Russian-held dam unleashed the worst ecological disaster in Ukraine’s history since the 1986 meltdown of Chornobyl. More than 80 settlements in the Kherson region flooded, and at least 27 people have died, according to Ukraine Interior Minister Igor Klymenko.
Yousuf Syed Khan, a senior lawyer at Global Rights Compliance who worked on the investigation, said the destruction of the dam created “a horrific starvation crime” in the Kherson region.
“The reverberating effects of this attack are no doubt immense, far-reaching, and multigenerational, as entire industries and livelihoods related to agribusiness have been severely affected,” Khan said.
The team of investigators, made up of lawyers, military experts and researchers, said Russian forces also targeted flooding evacuation points and restricted citizens from leaving areas with rising waters.
The report was issued by the Mobile Justice Team, one component of the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group, which is funded by the U.S. State Department, European Union and the U.K.’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.