Investigators have been digging into the ground, collecting dirt, taking photos, and planting small red flags in the soil in a village in southern Ukraine, as Kyiv prepares a landmark “ecocide” case against Russia.
It accuses Russia of blowing up Kakhovka dam, a major hydroelectric reservoir in the region, in a series of blasts on the morning of 6 June 2023, causing extensive flooding and environmental damage.
To build its case, Ukraine has dispatched a team of hundreds of ecological investigators to the area, overseen by Ukrainian prosecutor, Vladislav Ignatenko.
They are conducting a world-first war crimes investigation into allegations that Russia committed “ecocide” by destroying the dam, a case Ukraine intends to take to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
"All the substances that were on the surface were carried further downstream by the water's flow which spread it to the soil. In the future, all these pollutants that settled on the ground will be absorbed by the soil, and domestic animals,” said Ignatenko.
Dozens of people were killed as entire villages were submerged by the flood water, which the United Nations said caused €13 billion of destruction.
About 300 kilometres from the dam, on the outskirts of Zaporizhzhia, the ground is full of dry mussel shells scattered across the old bed of the Kakhovka reservoir.
"There used to be four metres of water here. Billions of living organisms were killed suddenly, in a few days when the reservoir emptied," said Vadym Maniuk, a biologist at Dnipro's Oles Honchar University.
Although the ICC doesn't recognise ecocide as a crime in itself, large-scale environmental damage can be considered part of a war crimes case.