From "destroyed by a Ukrainian strike" to "there was no explosion at all": how Russia is changing the rhetoric of its lies about the attack on the Kakhovska HPP

From “destroyed by a Ukrainian strike” to “there was no explosion at all”: how Russia is changing the rhetoric of its lies about the attack on the Kakhovska HPP

Photo: uk.wikipedia.org/ / Lalala0405
7 June 2023
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On the night of June 6, Russia committed another crime on the territory of Ukraine — the occupation forces blew up the Kakhovska Hydroelectric Power Plant. As usual, the Kremlin immediately began spreading disinformation, trying to convince the whole world that Ukraine was supposedly responsible for the explosion at the HPP. Meanwhile, the versions of Russian propagandists about what happened at the Kakhovska HPP diverge. Some claim that Ukraine destroyed the dam with a missile strike. Others argue that there was no strike tonight — the dam simply couldn’t withstand the water flow due to previous Ukrainian shelling. The reasons for the attack are also given as different: to start a counteroffensive or to draw the West’s attention to Ukraine without a counteroffensive. VoxCheck has analyzed the chronology of statements from Russian Telegram channels and representatives of the occupation authorities regarding the situation with the Kakhovska Hydroelectric Power Plant.

A wave of Kremlin propaganda began with reports that the Kakhovska Hydroelectric Power Plant ceased to exist as a result of the strike. Russian social media platforms added that the dam was destroyed by the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Russian Telegram channels started sharing videos with captions like “Destroyed by a strike from the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Kakhovska HPP” and “Kherson region after the Ukrainian sabotage of Kakhovska HPP“.

However, within a few hours, the Russian lies changed their angle. The so-called “mayor” of New Kakhovka, Leontiev, denied the fact of the Kakhovska HPP explosion, stating that everything in the city was calm and peaceful. His words were immediately spread by a number of Russian media outlets. However, shortly after that, Leontiev gave a comment to “Izvestia” journalists, contradicting his previous statement and talking about strikes on the power station: “Around 2 a.m., a series of numerous strikes were carried out on the Kakhovska HPP, which destroyed the sluice gates. As a result, water from the Kakhovka reservoir uncontrollably began to be discharged downstream“. Initially, Leontiev said there was no need to evacuate the population, but shortly thereafter, he mentioned that evacuation might be necessary for residents of settlements located downstream from Nova Kakhovka.

At the same time, another Russian propagandist, Yuriy Podolyaka, promotes a different version: “Today, in the early morning, the dam of the Kakhovska Hydroelectric Power Plant collapsed under the damages inflicted on it earlier. According to my information, no one blew it up (there were no explosions, people say, the Ukrainian artillery fired a few shells later). It is all a consequence of the previous damages!!! The dam simply couldn’t withstand them (the damages) and the water pressure“. Moreover, he mentions that the evacuation of the population is underway, although the mayor himself contradicts this statement an hour later. Other Telegram channels and media outlets pick up Podolyaka’s version.

Simultaneously, the version involving the Ukrainian shelling starts to acquire more details. Some Russian Telegram channels write that the Ukrainian authorities allegedly want to shift the blame for the shelling from Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) to Russia and portray it as a terrorist. Others invent an entirely illogical story that the AFU struck the dam to flood their own positions and urgently evacuate while an undamaged enemy would shell them. Here’s a message shared by one of the Kremlin news resources: “After the explosion of the Kakhovska HPP, the enemy is flooding their positions on their part of the islands in the Dnipro. The Ukrainian Armed Forces units have begun urgent evacuation, boarding boats and trying to escape, but they are continuously hit by artillery and strike drones. The current washes away the boats, they are destroyed by fire and sink. The enemy sends new boats from the shore, trying to save their own, but they also come under fire.” Meanwhile, Russian troops “remain in their positions“.

Some Russian Telegram channels continue to claim that there was no explosion and that the dam simply couldn’t withstand the water flow due to constant shelling by Ukrainian forces beforehand.

Later, during the day, new versions appear on propaganda channels. The main idea behind them is that the destruction of the Kakhovska HPP was supposedly premeditated by Kyiv. Some media outlets also start asserting that Ukrainian military forces struck the dam because they are not successful on the frontlines. Thus, the Kyiv authorities allegedly seek to escalate the situation and maintain the interest of Western partners. Additionally, Telegram channels begin spreading a statement by Peskov: “We firmly reject the accusation of blowing up the Kakhovska HPP. It was a deliberate sabotage by Kyiv. One of its goals is to deprive Crimea of water, and the water supply to the North Crimean Canal is being reduced“.

It is worth noting that alongside the Kakhovska HPP, Russian propagandists immediately started writing about the dam at the Kyiv HPP. They emphasize that the dam is in an emergency state and that if it were to burst, the first districts of Kyiv would be flooded within minutes. The authors of these channels writeisn’t it time to drown Kyiv?” and “we need to hit the dam of the Kyiv reservoir, to teach the Ukrainians a lesson“, while also mentioning radioactive substances.

The  Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (Zaporizhia NPP) is also mentioned in the posts. Supposedly, Ukraine coordinated the destruction of the Kakhovska HPP with foreign partners, and if they were to blow up the Zaporizhzhia NPP, they would coordinate it with the United States and the United Kingdom, without seeking approval from Europe.

Russia is not the first to employ such tactics, where after committing another war crime, the propaganda machine starts generating numerous versions of what happened. It did the same after the attack on the “Amstor” shopping center in Kremenchuk, the discovery of mass genocide of Ukrainians in Bucha, and the strike on the center of Vinnytsia. By throwing out multiple versions, propagandists confuse the audience, exhaust them with information, and essentially force them to settle on one particular narrative. It is noteworthy that while each theory differs in details, they all support the same narrative — that Russia is supposedly not involved, and it was all done by Ukraine. Thus, Russia attempts to undermine Ukraine’s image for Ukrainians living in the government-controlled territory and temporarily occupied territories. Russia spreads the same narratives in Europe, undermining support for Ukraine.

To protect yourself from hostile influence during such large-scale disasters (when we are most sensitive to information and forget to verify it while driven by emotions), it is necessary, first and foremost, to clean up our information space from dubious, anonymous, unverified sources and add official sources of information. Taking the time to verify what you read on social media and clean up your news feed will only take you 15-20 minutes, but it could save your life. It is important to try to control emotions even in the most challenging moments. One good practice is converting anger and pain into donations. Current fundraisers for Kherson and the Kherson region can be found here and here.

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The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have no relevant affiliations