Russian media are claiming that water levels in Ukraine’s main river, the Dnipro, have fallen because Ukraine is draining the river in order to deploy troops to the left bank. In fact, the drop in the Dnipro water level is not connected to any Ukrainian activities, but is the result of Russian shelling which damaged the shut-off valves at the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Station.

On January 19, the Zaporizhzhia Regional Prosecutor’s Office opened criminal proceedings under Article 438, Section 1 of Ukraine’s Criminal Code (laws and rules of war violation). Currently, preliminary investigative actions are underway to establish the extent of damage caused to the environment.

Some fringe Russian media and pro-Russian Telegram channels are disseminating claims that Ukraine “provoked an ecological catastrophe” by allegedly lowering the water level in the river Dnipro below Kremenchuk, in order to freeze the river faster. Propagandists write that Ukraine’s Armed Forces will soon launch a “strike” against the Kherson region, and plan to cross the Dnipro along a well-frozen section of the river. As “evidence”, they are publishing various photos and videos of depleted river waters and dead fish.

Yet another Telegram channel – Legitymnyi – which is considered to be associated with Russia’s secret services, has been circulating another version of this fake story, explaining the decreased level of water in the Dnipro as “… being depleted because Kyiv is accumulating water for its hydroelectric power stations”.

None of these versions are true.

According to statements issued by the Zaporizhzhia Regional Environmental Protection Agency, the decrease in the level of water in Ukraine’s main river has nothing to do with any Ukrainian actions, rather it is the result of incessant Russian shelling, which has damaged the shut-off valves at the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant. Shut off valves are used to shut off water supply to turbines, allowing for dewatering for inspection, maintenance and repair. 

(Opened in 1956, the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant is located on the Dnipro river in Nova Kakhovka, Kherson region, southern Ukraine. The city has been under Russian occupation since February 2022.) 

In a report published on January 19, the Zaporizhzhia Regional State Administration’s Department of Environmental Protection said the water level in the Kakhovka reservoir is steadily declining, presently it is 14.6 meters, the normal retaining water level should be 16.0 meters.

“Due to the hostilities and terrorist activities of the occupying troops, it is impossible to plan and execute any repair or maintenance work at the Kakhovka HPP. But we must note everything and assess the damage and losses. According to preliminary data, the losses already amount to almost 105 million hryvnia. The facts on the ground have all the signs of crimes against the environment. The aggressor country must answer for this in full,” said Oleksandr Starukh, head of the Zaporizhzhia Regional State Administration. 

Maxym Bronziuk, chief specialist in the Zaporizhzhia Regional State Fishery Agency told the local MTM Zaporizhzhia television station that environmentalists are already recording a significant loss of aquatic life, disturbances in fish winter cycles, particularly in thawing river areas where large numbers of dead fish are being found. If Dnipro water levels continue to fall, spawning grounds will dry up and reproduction cycles for aquatic life will be compromised and threatened. According to regional environmental authorities, loss of aquatic life can lead to unwanted outbreaks of infections in coastal river areas.

On January 9, the Zaporizhzhia Regional Prosecutor’s Office launched proceedings in connection with the mass dying of fish in the Dnipro River as a result of the Russian military shelling of the Khakhovka Hydroelectric Power Station dam under Article 438 Section 1 (violating laws and rules of war) of the Ukrainian Criminal Code.

Preliminary investigations  are ongoing  in order to establish the amount of damage caused to the environment, the Prosecutor’s office said on their official website.

On November 11, 2022, Russia blew up part of the Kakhovka plant spillway dam, after the withdrawal of Russian troops to the left bank of the Dnipro river. Russian media disseminated video of the explosion, accusing Ukraine of “organizing sabotage.”

Earlier, StopFake debunked false information that the Ukrainian Armed Forces allegedly “started flooding Kyiv in anticipation of a new Russian offensive.”