Ukraine has accused Russia of blowing up a huge Soviet-era dam on the Dnieper River in a Moscow-occupied area in the south, sending millions of liters of water cascading through the region in what President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called an act of "terror."
Ukrainian authorities said tens of thousands of people were being evacuated from areas threatened by massive flooding downstream in the Kherson region after the attack in the early hours of June 6. Within hours, water levels had already risen by 10 to 12 meters, they added.
The mayor of Nova Kakhovka, Volodymyr Kovalenko, told News of Azov, a project of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, that the the lower part of the river's bank had already flooded the Kazkova Dibrova zoo, a summer cinema, a park area, and stadiums, while architecturally significant buildings were threatened by the rising water that is likely to remain for several days before receding.
"The Kakhovska [dam project] has actually been destroyed, it's hard for me to imagine whether it will be possible to do something with it once the war has ended. The destruction is of such a scale that a lot of water will come out and there will be flooding, especially in the old part of the city," Kovalenko said.
With the Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant also in possible peril, Zelenskiy called an emergency meeting of the country's National Security and Defense Council to discuss the situation.
"Russian terrorists," Zelenskiy wrote on Twitter, where he posted a video of the broken dam and the water rapidly flowing through the huge breach.
"The destruction of the [Nova] Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant dam only confirms for the whole world that they must be expelled from every corner of Ukrainian land. Not a single meter should be left to them, because they use every meter for terror.... The terrorists will not be able to stop Ukraine with water, missiles or anything else," Zelenskiy wrote, adding that all services were working.
Russia denied it carried out the attack, with the Kremlin instead calling it "deliberate sabotage" by Kyiv.
Natalya Humenyuk, the spokeswoman for Ukraine's southern military command, said Russia blew up the dam to keep Ukrainian troops from being able to cross the Dnieper as it prepares to go on the counteroffensive to push Russian troops out of the region."They were aware that the movement of the (Ukrainian) defense forces would take place and in this way tried to influence the defense forces so that the crossing of the Dnieper, which they feared, would not happen." she told an online briefing, calling it a "hysterical reaction."While the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it was monitoring the situation, Ukraine's nuclear energy agency warned that the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam could pose a danger for the safety of the Zaporizhzhya plant -- Europe's biggest nuclear plant -- which uses water from the reservoir for the cooling process."Water from the Kakhovka reservoir is necessary for the station to receive power for turbine capacitors and safety systems. Now the station's cooling pond is full: as of 8 a.m., the water level is 16.6 meters high, which is enough for the station's needs," Enerhoatom, the plant's operator, said, adding later that the situation was "not critical."
The IAEA said the plant should have enough water to cool its reactors for "some months" from a pond located above the reservoir created by the dam."It is therefore vital that this cooling pond remains intact. Nothing must be done to potentially undermine its integrity. I call on all sides to ensure nothing is done to undermine that," IAEA chief Rafael Grossi said in a statement.
The Nova Kakhovka dam -- which is 30 meters tall and 3.2 kilometers long -- is part a vital route for transport and irrigation, as well as supplying water to Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula as well as the Zaporizhzhya plant, which are both under Russian control.International condemnation of the attack was swift, with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg calling it "an outrageous act," while European Council President Charles Michel expressed “shock” saying Russia should be held accountable for the "war crime" of destroying civilian infrastructure."The destruction of the Kakhovka dam today puts thousands of civilians at risk and causes severe environmental damage. This is an outrageous act, which demonstrates once again the brutality of Russia's war in Ukraine," Stoltenberg wrote on Twitter.British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly also put the blame squarely on Moscow for the destruction of the dam, saying that while it was "too early" to make any kind of meaningful assessment of the details, "it's worth remembering that the only reason this is an issue at all is because of Russia's unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine."
Ukraine has called for an urgent meeting of the United Nations Security Council to discuss what it called a "Russian terrorist attack" on the Kakhovka dam. It also said it wanted the IAEA's board of governors to discuss the incident and demanded new international sanctions on Russia, and in particular on the Russian missile industry and nuclear sector.
Officials continue to scramble to move residents out of the area, with Oleksandr Prokudin, the governor of the Kherson region, saying water levels will reach a "critical level" in the early afternoon.
"I specifically appeal to the residents on the left bank [of the Dnieper]: do everything possible to protect yourself and save your life -- immediately leave the dangerous areas," Prokudin said earlier on Telegram.
"As of 7:30 a.m., the following settlements are completely or partially flooded: Tyahynka, Lviv, Odradokamyanka, Ivanivka, Mykilske Tokarivka, Ponyativka, Bilozerka, and the Ostriv microdistrict of the city of Kherson. Other settlements will be flooded, we're prepared," he told national television.
The evacuation of approximately 16,000 people from the threatened area on the right bank of the Dnieper was already under way, Prokudin added.
Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukraine's presidential administration, accused Russia of "ecocide" in a message on Telegram."Another war crime by Russian terrorists. The president convenes the National Security Council. This is ecocide," Yermak wrote.
Presidential adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak accused Russia of committing a "premeditated crime" in an attempt to delay any chance of ending the conflict."The purpose is obvious: to create insurmountable obstacles on the way of the advancing [Ukrainian forces]; to intercept the information initiative; to slow down the fair end of the war. On a vast territory, all life will be destroyed; many settlements will be ruined; colossal damage will be done to the environment," Podolyak wrote on Twitter.
Officials in Russian-occupied parts of Kherson rejected the accusation, blaming the damage on Ukrainian strikes in the contested area.The Moscow-installed mayor of Nova Kakhovka, Vladimir Leontyev, said Ukrainian strikes on the dam destroyed its valves, and "water from the Kakhovka reservoir began to uncontrollably flow downstream."
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