A flooded house in the city center of Kherson, Ukraine.
2024 Photo Contest, Europe, Stories

Kakhovka Dam: Flood in a War Zone


Johanna Maria Fritz

Ostkreuz, for Die Zeit
07 June, 2023

A flooded house in the city center of Kherson, Ukraine.

On 6 June 2023, explosions damaged the wall of the Russian-controlled Kakhovka Dam in southeastern Ukraine, causing extensive floods in Kherson, downstream on the Dnipro River. Kherson, a strategically important city in the Russia-Ukraine war, had been one of the first to be occupied by the Russians in March 2022. In November that year, Ukraine retook the city, which is on the west bank of the river, forcing Russian withdrawal to the east bank.

The cause of the explosions is disputed, with both Russia and Ukraine accusing each other of blowing up the dam. Other sources cited neglect of the dam’s maintenance and infrastructure, or mines that had washed free of riverbanks as causes. After the initial breach of the dam, the force of the water flowing out damaged it further.

The breach in the dam flooded at least 17,500 homes on both the Ukrainian west bank and the Russian-held east bank of the river, according to a Kyiv School of Economics report. An AP investigation in December 2023 put the death toll in the hundreds. Flooding lasted 19 days, and rescue and recovery efforts were hampered by Kherson’s proximity to the frontline, as the city suffered ongoing shelling. 

The Kherson flood highlights the issue of the weaponization of the environment and natural resources. Russian forces have used deliberate flooding to slow down the Ukrainian counteroffensive in the past, either by breaking existing dams or building new ones, according to Bellingcat and the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group. Ukraine admits using similar tactics at the start of the war. Ukraine subsequently investigated the destruction of the Kakhovka Dam and began building an ecocide case against Russia for the International Criminal Court.


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Johanna Maria Fritz
About the photographer

Johanna Maria Fritz is a photographer who divides her time between Ukraine and the Middle East. She focuses on capturing the lives of disadvantaged groups, especially women and those in conflict zones.  Trained at the Ostkreuzschule für Fotografie and a member of the Ostkreuz Agency since 2019, her work has bee...

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Jury comment

The jury was impressed by how these images highlight the environmental impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The project urges viewers to consider the weaponization of the landscape and man-made natural disasters. The photographer does an exceptional job of evoking empathy in her documentation of a breaking news event. This story calls attention to extreme and inhumane acts of war that occurred among many other events over the last 12-months in Ukraine.