The River Wailed Like a Wounded Beast

On June 6, 2023, Russian troops blew up the Kakhovka reservoir dam, committing yet another war crime during their full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Social and environmental consequences of this event will become clear only in the future. Meanwhile, we want to return to the past in order to examine the processes brought about by Soviet modernization: the construction of a cascade of hydroelectric power plants on the Dnipro and the ideological reenvisioning of Ukraine’s water resources.

Along with other megalomaniacal Soviet projects, the construction of the HPPs, especially of the Dnipro hydroelectric station (1927–1932), was widely publicized in films and interpreted by many artists including Dzyga Vertov, Oleksandr Dovzhenko, Ivan Kavaleridze, Arnold Kordium and Yulia Solntseva. Occasionally, Ukrainian Soviet films went beyond presenting positive images of large-scale construction sites and revealed pre-modern forms of human coexistence with rivers as well as the negative consequences of the industrial exploitation of water bodies.

Today’s tragedy gives us an impetus to think about the way the subjugation of the Dnipro was represented in cinema and ask pertinent questions about our future coexistence with rivers and seas. It also calls on us to look for subtle ways of “decolonizing nature” against the background of Ukraine’s political decolonization and liberation from Russian occupation and imperial influence.