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Dam breach in Kherson brings disaster

A major dam breach in Ukraine has caused flooding and disaster in the region. Thousands have been evacuated.

Written by Tarryn Pegna | 08 Jun 2023

People in Kherson, southern Ukraine, stand alongside boats used to evacuate people from homes that have been flooded by a major dam breach

Thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes in southern Ukraine (Kherson) after a major dam breach. Credit: Church of Jesus Christ, Kherson

Video footage shared by Tearfund’s local church partner in Kherson city shows a river where once there were streets, with homes and businesses flooded all the way to their roofs. Filmed from a boat travelling where cars and pedestrians would usually be, the camera captures a scene of devastation in a region that has already faced so much conflict and sadness.


‘There are a lot of evacuation efforts,’ the cameraman tells us, ‘but many more people are in need.’

The breach of a major dam in southern Ukraine has resulted in flooding and destruction in at least 29 communities in the region. Thousands of people have been evacuated and hundreds of thousands no longer have access to clean water. So far there have been three deaths reported.  

At this stage there is no clarity around the cause of the dam breach.  

Church response to the disaster

Churches in the area, including our local church partner, are working together, alongside the army and the emergency services, to help evacuate people from homes that are flooded or at risk. They are also helping to provide food, clothes and bedding to people who have had to leave their homes. Our local church partner has already set up a field kitchen in the church building to provide hot meals and they are distributing aid items that are being donated by other Ukrainian churches.

Tearfund is currently accessing existing Ukraine funding to support them in these efforts.

‘There are a lot of evacuation efforts, but many more people are in need. ’
Tearfund’s local church partner in Kherson City

A personal account of the flooding in Kherson

Ivan and Anna* are a husband and wife in their late 50s who had been living in an apartment block near the river in Kherson. They had already been forced to flee their home and spend the winter in Kyiv to escape the heavy shelling in the area. They didn't have electricity or running water in Kyiv, but they were safer. However, they needed to be able to work to provide for themselves, so last month they returned to Kherson.

Their flat in Kherson is on the 6th floor of an apartment building near the river. Initially, they said, no one believed that the city would be affected much after the dam breach, but then, overnight, the water came gushing through the streets. People were reluctant to leave their homes and some even turned away offers of evacuation, hoping against hope that they would be okay. 

Emergency services came to Ivan and Anna’s block of flats and asked their neighbour if they wanted to evacuate, but the neighbour didn't want to leave their home, so the emergency boat left. Ivan and Anna didn’t hear the offer of evacuation, but finally were able to escape when the church’s boat arrived to help. 

Ivan and Anna said they felt heartbroken that, having only just returned to their home after leaving to escape the shelling, they were now forced to flee again.

Two large pots are prepared in a field kitchen set up by Tearfund's local church partner in Kherson city after a major dam breach caused massive flooding in southern Ukraine.

Tearfund’s local church partner has set up a field kitchen in the church to provide hot food to people have been evacuated from their homes because of flooding caused by the dam breach in Ukraine. Credit: Church of Jesus Christ, Kherson

Immediate and long-term effects of the dam breach

As an estimated 4.4 cubic miles of water was suddenly and violently released down the Dnipro River towards the Black Sea, people lost homes and belongings and access to clean drinking water supply. 

It has also created a dangerous pollution problem. When the dam collapsed, so did the hydroelectric plant at the dam, releasing tons of engine oil and other chemicals into the water that now floods streets and homes along the vast stretch of river.   

A further fear is that the floodwaters may have dislodged landmines planted during the ongoing conflict in the region, presenting yet another potentially fatal danger.

Beyond the immediate impact on people and infrastructure, the long-term effects of this disaster are also extremely serious. The dam provided irrigation to one of the most fertile regions in Ukraine – a region heavily relied upon for agriculture. 

The BBC reported: ‘The agriculture ministry on Wednesday predicted that fields in southern Ukraine could "turn into deserts as early as next year", as vital irrigation systems, which depend on the vast Kakhovka reservoir, cease to function.’

It is estimated that the cost to agriculture in the region could reach £7bn over the next five years – which is how long it may take to rebuild the irrigation systems that farmers rely on. 

There are also large areas that will have no clean drinking water until major rebuilding of the destroyed waterways can be carried out.

‘Fields in southern Ukraine could "turn into deserts as early as next year".’
Ukrainian ministry of agriculture as reported by the BBC


Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called the dam breach ‘an environmental bomb of mass destruction’ and the Ukrainian prosecutor general's office has said it is investigating a possible crime of ‘ecocide’ because of the massive destruction of the natural environment which seems quite likely to have been caused by deliberate human action.

*Names have been changed for protection

Pray for Ukraine

    • Lift up all those who have been affected by this disaster. Pray for access to clean water and shelter for those who have been displaced.
    • Pray for protection for people from landmines that may have been dislodged by the flooding. Ask God that no more lives would be lost.
    • Bring before God all those who are responding – particularly our local church partner. Ask for safety for them and that they will be able to access the resources they need to support those in need.

Find more ways to pray for Ukraine here.

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Written by  Tarryn Pegna

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