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Flooded and shelled Kherson: the consequences of undermining the Kakhovka hydroelectric station in the photographs of Mstislav Chernov, Danil Pavlov and Konstantin and Vlada Liberov

Private houses in Kherson were flooded after the explosion of the Kakhos hydroelectric power plant. June 7, 2023. Photo by Konstantin and Vlada Liberov


On June 6, 2023, at about three o'clock, the Russian military blew up the dam of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power station in the Kherson region. It was the fifth largest hydroelectric power station in Ukraine. Having destroyed it, the Russian invaders caused the largest technological disaster on our continent since the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.


Today, the Ukrainian Association of Professional Photographers publishes photos of Konstantin and Vlad Liberov and Daniil Pavlov, taken in flooded Kherson in the first hours and days after the explosion of the Kakhovka hydroelectric station by the Russians.


The dam of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power station was blown up. Photo by Mstislav Chernov


Mission to Document


Houses, fields and settlements were under water, especially on the low left bank of the Dnieper in the Kherson region. As a result of the explosion of the dam of the Kakhovka hydroelectric station in the territories controlled by Ukraine, 33 people were killed, 28 were injured. More than 40 people are still missing. Information about the dead and wounded was received by the UN international commission to investigate violations in Ukraine from the Ukrainian government.


Fish died on the shores of the Kakhovka reservoir. Photo by Mstislav Chernov


Representatives of the Russian Federation have not yet responded to requests from UN investigators regarding the consequences of undermining the dam. However, the Associated Press conducted its own investigation. According to journalists, as a result of the destruction of the Kakhovka hydroelectric dam and floods, hundreds of people died, which is much more than the number announced by the Russian-controlled occupation authorities. In addition, in ten settlements on the temporarily occupied left bank of the Dnieper, the Russians refused to evacuate people and forbade them to leave for the annexed Crimea on their own. In New Kakhovka, the local zoo flooded - most of the animals died. Until now, it is impossible to accurately assess the consequences of the disaster.


That morning, photographer Daniil Pavlov woke up earlier than planned. At 5 o'clock in the morning, as usual, he opened the news feed, but what he read made him jump out of bed. "I immediately began to think who to call and how to act," recalls Danylo. "At 8 o'clock in the morning it was decided that we should go to Kherson. While I took everyone: photographer Sergei Korovainy, Sergey Polezhak and journalist Miroslav Layuk, we left Kyiv at about 11-12 o'clock."


Photo by Danylo Pavlov


Around the same time, a couple of photographers Vlad and Konstantin Liberov went to Kherson. They rather completed the planned shooting in the Kyiv hospital to document the consequences of the explosion in Kherson.


Photo by Konstantin and Vlada Liberov


People along with pets are fleeing the flood by boat. Photo by Konstantin and Vlada Liberov


"On the morning of June 6, we did go to the hospital, since the scale of the disaster was not yet clear from the first news. At about 8 o'clock, when it became known that the water was starting to enter Kherson, we decided to immediately go there, "says Vlada.


At about 17 o'clock Kostya and Vlad were already in the city. In some places the water was already up to his neck. "We walked through the water and people looked out of the windows. They sat on the porch and waited for the water to subside. No one thought that the water would rise to such a level, and did not believe that it would flood the city so much, "recalls Vlada.


Photo by Konstantin and Vlada Liberov


The authorities and Kostya did not even have time to wear body armor and helmets, as the Russians began to shell the city: "Honestly, we did not expect this. I was struck by the maximum inhumanity of our enemy. Not only did the Russians flood the city and carry out one of the largest ecocides in recent decades, but they also continue to shell civilians. Then he flew into the residential quarter. People were screaming. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but the situation was very tense. "


While people tried to escape from the water, the Russian army continued to shell Kherson. Photo by Konstantin and Vlada Liberov


Photo by Konstantin and Vlada Liberov


Iconic photo of dog and rescuer


Daniel spent the first night in Kherson with the team in a private courtyard, spending the night in the open air near one of the houses that did not flood. "Korovayny agreed with some acquaintances - and we spent the night near the house, from which we did not even have keys. A neighbor let us in. On the first evening in Kherson, we managed to remove only the places where the water approached and the woman measuring it. The next morning we woke up at 6:30 and went to look for places where water was coming up. That's where I actually made this shot with the dog, which everyone reposted. "


People measure the incoming water in Kherson. Photo by Danylo Pavlov


Photo by Danylo Pavlov


The photo in which the frightened dog hugs the leg of its savior with its paws was distributed in social networks by the popular Hollywood actress, star of the series "All Women of the Witch" Shannen Dougherty. "Maybe that's why this shot has become so iconic. After its distribution, this photo was taken by different organizations and asked by different people. They wrote to me with questions: "How to help and where to entice?" Apparently, in this case the photo function was successfully performed: assistance to help, "says Danylo.


Russian propagandists called the photo staged, and the dog was nicknamed "Pavlov's dog." Photo by Danylo Pavlov


This picture was also published by Ukrainian stars and influencers. The photo could draw attention to the disaster. Then hundreds of volunteers with boats rushed to save the animals. Pictures of animals flew around the first pages of the world media and became one of the symbols of this man-made disaster.


"For some reason, sometimes the grief in which animals find themselves attracts more attention than the grief in which people find themselves," concludes Daniil Pavlov.


Korabel Island


Korabel Island is located in the center of Kherson between the right bank, controlled by Ukrainian forces, and the left, which was temporarily occupied by the Russians. There, Kherson residents wake up to the sounds of the Russian cannonade, listen to the whistle of mines over their heads during the day and subsequently fall asleep to the accompaniment of Grad and Shahed. However, on June 6, water was added to the troubles of Kherson residents.


"President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited Kherson. I remember how the shelling of the city immediately began. Several times we hid in this Ship Square - just lay there under the courtyards of houses. Shelling in Kherson is always scary, because ordinary artillery flies there. "


Photo by Danylo Pavlov


On the second day after the explosion of the dam, Daniel and his team came under fire.

"On the water, we met volunteers who came from the Kyiv region to save animals on their own. They had a boat, we sat down to them and suddenly heard a whistle. We decided to swim to one house, which then flew. We threw bulletproof vests, because there was information that someone drowned in it, but they covered themselves during the shelling, "says Danylo.


Photo by Danylo Pavlov


Danylo filmed the evacuation of people and the work of the humanitarian mission. "We swam for this large water, where there was an evacuation point - people were brought in by DSNS boats," says Danylo.


"This is the largest man-made disaster since the Chernobyl accident. The Russians completely destroyed the station. Look at the number of square kilometers of territory under water: what this led to and how the war affects the environment. You realize the scale of the disaster when you see a whole area floating. It also seems to me that this event is not properly communicated and, perhaps, we even lost the information. Because some Western media wrote that it may not be the Russians who blew up the dam, "says Danylo.


Amazing Kherson


Great water came more and more to Kherson and the surrounding villages, taking with it everything that came her way. To the Black Sea, water from the dam carried whole houses, enterprises, cemeteries, farms, etc.


On the second day after the explosion of the dam in the city there were already significantly more volunteers with boats. Volunteers, military, doctors, journalists and local people united to help each other.


Photo by Danylo Pavlov


"It was just incredible. Kostya made a very epic shot of the military taking out two girls on a boat. Such a contrast: the city, water, cute guys in uniform and the same pretty girls. They were smiling. People saved themselves and saved their animals. We even filmed a woman saving a goat. It was very, very moving. However, the next day there was again shelling, and a day later too. There were victims, dead. The enemy did not stop shelling the city, did not take a break, "says Vlada.


Photo by Konstantin and Vlada Liberov


Danylol Pavlov met twin volunteers Boris and Yuri Knyazhinsky in Kherson, who saved people and animals on their boat. Not knowing the depth and direction of the current, without personal protective equipment, in the rain and under enemy bullets, the guys saved people who were trapped in water. The photographer notes the friendly atmosphere that reigned in Kherson while the water arrived.


Twin volunteers Boris and Yuri Knyazhinsky on their boat saved people and animals. Photo by Danylo Pavlov


"Near the Ship's Square, the men and women who made coffee just distributed it to everyone. Plain instant coffee and a little sugar. People from Kherson have suffered a lot, and I dream that the front line will move and this large and very beautiful city will finally cease to be in such danger, "says Danylo Pavlov.


Photo by Danylo Pavlov


 

Danylo Pavlov is a photojournalist since 2009, worked in the regional media of Donetsk, and later in the media holding "Segodnya" and UNIAN agency. He also worked as a commercial photographer for several Ukrainian companies. In photojournalism, he focuses on creating social photo stories and illustrating long-time reports. In addition to working in traditional media, Danylo also contributed to the online magazine The Ukrainians, and later became responsible for the visual direction of a separate edition of Reporters, which now exists both online and in print. Danylo continues to photograph and cover events after the full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022. He reports from de-occupied territories and military positions, and is currently working on a lengthy photo project documenting the impact of the war on military personnel and civilians in need of plastic surgery. He also cooperates with the State Emergency Service, for which last year he was awarded the state badge of honor.


Photographer's social networks: 


Konstantin Liberov - Ukrainian photographer, photojournalist. Cavalier Order of Merit III degree (2023). One of his photos was chosen by Time magazine among the 100 best photos of 2022. During the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, together with his wife Vlada Liberova, they filmed the consequences of the war in Kharkov, Severodonetsk, Lysychansk, Svyatogorsk, Nikolaev, Bucha, Irpin, Kyiv and other cities. Konstantin's photographs were published by The Kyiv Independent, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Insider, The Independent.


Photographer's social networks:


Recall that the Ukrainian Association of Professional Photographers has launched a series of materials on the key events of the Russian war against Ukraine, where it publishes memoirs and photographs of Ukrainian documentary photographers.


The project is implemented thanks to the support of The Foundation for Polish-German Cooperation.

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