At dawn on 6 June, the partial destruction of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power station dam became known, leading to large-scale flooding in southern Ukraine. The Ukrainian authorities had warned about the occupiers’ plans to blow up the dam long before the incident.
Western media initially questioned whether it was an explosion. Later, factual evidence began to show up: seismic signals recorded by Norwegian experts and images from American reconnaissance satellites. Today, Western leaders are speaking with one voice: whether intentionally or through negligence, it is Russia that is responsible for the destruction of the dam. After all, it was the Russian military that seized and controlled the facility in the Kherson region from the beginning of the full-scale invasion.
Who exactly from the Russian military controlled the hydroelectric power station? Who commanded them? And what did the occupiers talk about during the disaster?
Investigative journalists from the Slidstvo.Info agency and the Skhemy project (Radio Liberty) identified the Russian military and their commanders, as well as received exclusive intercepts of conversations that took place between the military on the night of the destruction, and publish them in a joint material.
The Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant is located half a kilometre from the town of Nova Kakhovka, Kherson region.
From the beginning of the full-scale war and until its destruction on 6 June 2023, the hydroelectric power plant was fully controlled by the Russian occupation forces. According to the Main Directorate of Intelligence and the Office of the President of Ukraine, the positions at and near the HPP were set up by soldiers of the 205th separate motorised rifle “Cossack” brigade of the Russian Army. This fact was also confirmed by Russian “war reporters”: interviews with soldiers of the 205th separate motorised rifle brigade, who boast about their weapons and “well-equipped” firing positions near the hydroelectric power station, can be found on the Russian video hosting RuTube.
The investigators managed to identify a number of Russian soldiers of this brigade who directly controlled the Kakhovka HPP. The videos filmed by Russian propaganda media at the dam were helpful in identifying them, despite the fact that the soldiers were hiding their faces in balaclavas. For example, it was possible to identify 35-year-old Arsen Pitskhelauri with the call sign Gruzin (Georgian — transl.), who, judging by his photos on the Russian social network Vkontakte, took an active part in the occupation of the Kherson region.
In several photographs, Pitskhelauri is seen in military uniform directly at the Kakhovka hydroelectric power station. According to the occupier’s acquaintances, he still remains in Nova Kakhovka, along with other soldiers of the 205th Separate Mechanised Brigade. They also said that after the destruction of the dam, Gruzin was recalled to Russia for an award ceremony.
The journalists also managed to identify Ruslan Magomedov, a sergeant with the 205th Brigade’s engineer battalion, who was awarded the Order of Courage in December 2022.
He was awarded by the deputy commander of the 205th Brigade with the call sign “Polygon”, also identified by journalists. This is 36-year-old Major Denis Mishchenko. The awarding ceremony took place near the hydroelectric power station in the Park of Glory of Nova Kakhovka.
THE NEW COMMANDER OF THE OCCUPIERS AT KAKHOVKA HYDROELECTRIC POWER STATION — ROMAN TITOV
The fact that the Kakhovka hydroelectric power station was blown up by fighters of the 205th separate motorised rifle “Cossack” brigade is the main version voiced by both Ukrainian officials and the media. It was mainly about its military experience (participation in the Chechen war), motto (“we will return even from hell”) and data on its personnel and command (Lieutenant Colonel Eduard Shandura was called the commander).
However, the journalists found that the composition of the brigade, including its leadership, had changed since the last time the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine published the list.
The journalists received an updated list of the 205th Brigade’s fighters from sources in one of Ukraine’s state special forces agencies. This includes almost four hundred people who serve in motorised rifle battalions, a special communications company, howitzer self-propelled artillery battalions, a rocket artillery battalion, an anti-tank artillery battalion, an anti-aircraft missile battalion, a reconnaissance battalion, an engineer battalion and other units of the 205th Brigade.
According to the document, the commander of the 205th Brigade is no longer Eduard Shandura, but Colonel Roman Titov.
Additional confirmation of the change of command was found by journalists on the page of school No. 16 in the village of Kuzminskoye, Stavropol Territory, on the Russian social network Vkontakte. In December 2022, they published a letter of gratitude to the school signed by the commander of the 205th Brigade, Roman Titov, dated November 2022.
Colonel Titov was known to Ukrainian intelligence even before he became the head of the brigade. According to the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine, since March 2015, Roman Titov has been “directly involved in criminal activity on the territory of Ukraine”.
In the 205th Separate Mechanised Brigade, Titov commanded units that “until February 2016, on a rotational basis, took part in hostilities in the temporarily occupied territories of eastern Ukraine near the settlements of Luhansk and Krasnodon”.
According to the information provided by Ukrainian intelligence, which was confirmed by journalists, Roman Titov has a criminal record for abuse of power with the use of violence and weapons.
NEW INTERCEPTS ON THE NIGHT OF THE DAM COLLAPSE: “ON THE ALERT, EVERYTHING ON COMMAND!”
So far, it has not been possible to identify and prove the key role of Roman Titov in the destruction of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power station. The Russian colonel ignored the questions and phone calls sent via messengers. However, taking into account the intercepts of conversations of the 205th Brigade soldiers on the night of the dam’s destruction, which journalists managed to get at their disposal, the Russian occupiers were then preparing to act on “command”. This was at the time when residents of Nova Kakhovka began to report explosions and strange noises in the chat room. This was happening between 2:18 and 2:34 am on 6 June.
The context of the conversation suggests that two important events took place. First, the Russian military were preparing to do something “on command”. The second is that, in the eyes of the Russian military officer, who, according to the conversation, was on or near the dam at the time of the explosion, an “emergency” (i.e., an incident) had occurred. The following is a fragment of the intercepted conversation provided to journalists by a source among the Ukrainian military (the conversation takes place between 2.20 and 2.34 am on 6 June).
02:20 – How’s the situation? That’s one thing, secondly, everything is ready, everything is on the line, how did you receive me?
02:20 – It’s all over now, it’s all done.
02:21 – Copy that, copy that, move to the point, move to the point, take everything.
02:21 – But we can’t take anything away.
02:30 – EMERGENCY. If anything, it’s over, the point of departure is finished, the water is full.
02.34 – Move to the place where you were picked up and left.
02.34 – They can’t get out, everything is flooded.
The command to “move to the point, take everything” was given, judging by the conversation, after the dam had been destroyed. And it seems that not everyone was able to “move out” because “the water is full”. The head of the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine, Kyrylo Budanov, also spoke about the order to get ready and leave the dam.
The journalists found out that the soldiers of the 205th Brigade are still in Nova Kakhovka. This was confirmed in a conversation with a Russian soldier familiar with the 205th.
NINE MONTHS BEFORE. RUSSIAN SAPPERS AT THE HYDROELECTRIC POWER STATION
What preceded the destruction of the hydroelectric power station and how reasonable is the version of the hydroelectric power station being blown up from the inside?
The destruction of the Kakhovka HPP was most likely caused by an explosion in the tunnel of the dam’s concrete foundation, the New York Times wrote on 16 June, directly indicating that it was Russia’s doing.
In a comment to Slidstvo and Schemy, Ukrhydroproekt (the successor company to the Ukrhydroproekt institute that designed the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant) said that its experts “exclude the possibility of an external strike that could have caused such a destruction of the plant”. According to their preliminary conclusion, the destruction of the Kakhovka HPP was caused by “explosions in the interior of the building”. The company reported that it had contacted experts from the Main Centre for Special Control of Ukraine, who “recorded an impulse event with localisation in the area of the Kakhovka HPP”, indicating explosions. The same events were reportedly recorded by seismic stations of the Norwegian company Norsar located in Romania.
Who could have mined the dam and when? The journalists found an engineer at the Kakhovka HPP who was forced to continue working at the power plant during the occupation until September 2022. The man’s name is withheld for reasons of his safety.
According to the worker, since the beginning of the occupation, sappers from the Russian army have been living at the hydroelectric power plant and had access to all the premises: “The sappers lived in a bomb shelter right at the HPP. We had a bomb shelter under the control room, and a team of sappers with dogs lived there, because there were changing rooms, showers, refrigerators, and everything you need. You could say they were an ‘elite unit’ with such conditions.”
A HPP worker said that during his stay at the plant, workers were not allowed to enter a number of rooms. Among them were the plant’s posterns (underground rooms). “The HPP’s posterns are located at minus 7 metres. I do not exclude that at that time there was already something secret there. I didn’t personally see how the explosives were brought there, but judging by the nature of the damage to Kakhovka HPP that we all saw, this is one of the likely places where the explosion could have occurred,” the HPP employee said.
The journalists spoke to Ukrainian military sapper Mykola Shchehelskyi: “All the mechanics of blowing up the hydroelectric power station were done according to a textbook on where to place the charges. It was all done from the inside. The dams were definitely prepared to be blown up. The explosion did not go outside, because such operations are done by letting the water do all the work. A few cracks in the dam, and it will do the work itself.”
The 205th Brigade includes, among others, an engineer battalion (38 soldiers). Journalists found their pages and photos on social media. The sappers of the 205th Brigade mostly refused to talk to journalists. Those who agreed to talk claimed that they had resigned before the events at the Kakhovka hydroelectric power station. It is possible that the dam could have been mined by a unit outside the 205th Brigade.
This opinion is shared by a Ukrainian sapper. “It is unlikely to entrust a military officer of any rank with the ‘button’ to blow up such a structure. It was supposed to be a stationary demolition post that should have received this command. When explosives are used, there is almost never anything that happens spontaneously,” said Mykola Shchehelskyi.
Thus, the team of journalists managed to identify individuals among the Russian military who were at the Kakhovka hydroelectric power station and could be involved in its explosion, i.e. a serious war crime. Intercepts of telephone conversations of the Russian military, obtained by journalists from sources, indicate that there was a certain “command” from the Russian military leadership, that “escape points” were planned, and that an “emergency” occurred. This evidence may indicate the Russians’ intention to blow up the Kakhovka HPP. In this context, it is noteworthy that on 30 May, a week before the explosion at the Kakhovka HPP, the Russian government issued a separate document that effectively banned investigations into accidents at hydraulic structures. It simply stated that such investigations would not be conducted until 2028.