The destruction of a dam and a hydroelectric power station in a Russian-occupied area of Ukraine marks a “despicable and diabolical act” that “defies the imagination”, Archbishop Borys Gudziak, Metropolitan of Catholics, told OSV News Ukrainians in the United States.
On June 6, damage to the Kakhovka hydroelectric power station in Ukraine’s Kherson region released some 18 cubic kilometers of water from the Kakhovka Reservoir, one of the largest reservoirs in the world. At least 29 towns and villages along the Dnipro River have been inundated so far, with 42,000 people at risk of flooding, according to Ukrainian government officials.
More than 80 colonies lie in the way of the rising waters, which washed away homes and entire structures, killing hundreds of animals, including all but a few of the 300 residents of Kazkova Dibrova Zoo.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said hundreds of thousands of people were left without drinking water, while the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine estimated that at least 150 tonnes of machine oil entered in the Dnipro river, with more than 300 tonnes still at risk of leaking.
While international media have avoided identifying a definitive cause or responsible party for the destruction, the Washington-based nonprofit Institute for the Study of War reported on June 6 that in the absence of a “definitive assessment of responsibility…the balance of evidence, reasoning, and rhetoric suggests that the Russians deliberately damaged the dam”, which Russian forces overtook in February 2022.
The destruction of the dam precedes a long-awaited Ukrainian counter-offensive in the war, launched by Russia in February 2022. The full-scale invasion continues the attacks launched in 2014 with the illegal annexation of Ukrainian Crimea and the promotion of pro-Russian separatist activities in the Ukrainian provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Investigators have documented around 80,000 war crimes committed by Russia since February 2022. In March, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Commissioner for Children’s Rights, Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, for the illegal deportation and transfer of relatives to 19,400 children from the occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation. Ukraine has also filed charges of genocide by Russia with the International Court of Justice.
“We have seen a whole series of war crimes. This act of terrorism completes it,” Bishop Gudziak said.
“That the record shows we can add ecosystems to Putin’s casualty list and ecoterrorism to his resume,” said Nicholas Rudnytzky, professor of history and dean of academic services at Manor College in Jenkintown, Pa. a school deeply rooted in the Ukrainian-American community.
“Ukraine has been struck by an act of mass terror,” said Eugene Luciw, chairman of the Philadelphia chapter of the Ukrainian Congress of America Committee and member of the Ukrainian Catholic Church Presentation of Our Lord of Lansdale, in Pennsylvania. “This shows absolute proof that Russia should be labeled as a state sponsor of terrorism.”
Rudnytzky told OSV News that “Putin’s position is…that since Ukrainians do not exist in any real sense, then what harm can be claimed if the earth is burned, the children kidnapped, the fields mined and entire settlements are wiped out by releasing catastrophic floodwaters?”
With “billions of dollars of destroyed infrastructure, it will take decades to recover,” Bishop Gudziak said.
The floods add to the severe environmental damage already suffered by Ukraine due to munitions contamination from the Russian invasion – and threaten Ukraine’s long-standing agricultural importance as the “breadbasket of the Europe”, along with the Middle East and North Africa, he said.
Rudnytzky said the destruction of the dam allows Russia – which also occupies Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe – to “(cast) uncertainty and fear about the stability of nuclear energy in general”.
“Putin let Finland, Sweden, Czech Republic, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and everyone who owns a nuclear plant know that (find) alternatives to Russian oil and gas can be a handicap,” Rudnytzky said. “With the breach of the Kakhovka dam and… endangering the stability of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear facility, Putin is sending a clear signal about how far he is willing to go to allow Russia to dominate the region in the political and economic spheres.
Luciw said that prospect leaves “absolutely no choice for the Western world but to support a decisive victory by Ukraine”, adding that he plans to continue to press Congress to “declare that Russia is a state sponsor of terrorism”.
At the same time, he begs the sky.
“Prayer is absolutely essential to achieving any goal that involves freeing Ukraine from this terror,” he said. “Without this, none of the objectives, military or otherwise, that are important in this conflict will ever be achieved.”
He said he “also prays for the conversion of the enemy. … I just sit down and say, ‘Lord, help these people find real light and give them the opportunity to change themselves.’
“Our prayers and solidarity for a just peace are even more important,” Bishop Gudziak said. “We should have no doubt that God’s truth will prevail.”
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