Water flows from the Khbakuka Dam in southern Ukraine following an explosion in it (Telegram)
Thousands of residents in areas near the dam that exploded in southern Ukraine on Tuesday are facing evacuation from their homes as the Dnipro River overflows. Kyiv and Moscow continue to exchange accusations over the destruction of the Nova Hakhovka Dam, which was controlled by the Russian occupation forces, and at this stage it is difficult to verify the claims of both sides.
Following the dam explosion, which could lead to another humanitarian disaster – and in an extreme case a nuclear disaster – in the war-torn country, Ukraine's Foreign Ministry is demanding an emergency session of the UN Security Council – even though Russia is its rotating president. Kyiv says the dam hit is a Russian "terrorist attack" and that new sanctions should be imposed. In Moscow, the Kremlin said Ukraine wanted to cut water supplies to Crimea and create a distraction from the "failure" of its counteroffensive.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who convened an emergency meeting following the developments, said Russian forces blew up the dam from the inside overnight. About 80 towns and villages are at risk from the flooding, he said, adding that the government and authorities are doing "everything we can to save lives." He confirmed that those living in the "danger zones" had been asked to evacuate as soon as possible.
"Russian terrorists. The destruction of the dam of the Khkovka hydraulic power plant only proves to the whole world that they must be expelled from every corner of Ukraine's territory," he wrote on his Telegram account earlier. "We must not leave them one meter, because they use every meter for terror."
The area has been under Russian occupation since the beginning of the war. Flooding in Kherson after the dam burst, today (Photo: Reuters)
Footage posted on social media showed a series of powerful explosions around the dam, which was built by the Soviets in 1956. Other videos showed water flowing through the remains of the dam, whose water flooded the nearby town after which it is named. The dam, which is 30 meters high and 3.2 km long, was built on the Dnipro River as part of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power station. Its reservoir supplies both Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, and the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, also under Russian control.
An official in the Russian occupation administration in the province said there was no concern at this stage about the safety of the reactor, where fighting worries the international community for fear of a nuclear disaster. The Ukrainian side also said that the situation at the reactor is currently under control. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said there was no "immediate danger" to safety at the reactor, but added that without a long-term supply of cooling water to the reactor, its operation could be disrupted.
Alexei Danilov, secretary of Ukraine's Defense and National Security Council, said the dam explosion was "a whole new phase in Russian aggression." He added that Moscow had openly declared its "real goal - the destruction of Ukraine, the killing of Ukrainians, the destruction of the economy and the structures that support life."
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Kiev is assessing the damage. Zelensky at an emergency meeting after the dam burst, today (Photo: Reuters)
Russia provided conflicting explanations at the start of the incident, with some officials saying the dam had been destroyed by Ukrainian shelling while others initially said the dam had collapsed on its own. Later, the Kremlin said flooding could have serious consequences for tens of thousands of residents. The Kremlin accused Kyiv of sabotaging the dam to obscure "the fact that its counteroffensive is collapsing," as well as to undermine water supplies to Crimea.
Crimean Governor Sergei Aksyonov said the peninsula had sufficient reservoirs at this stage, but he noted that there was a danger of falling water levels in the canal that carries water from the Dnipro River to the peninsula. According to him, the situation will become clearer in the coming days.
Satellite image of Nova Kakhovka Dam (Photo: Reuters)
The dam explosion came at a time when there are growing signs that Ukraine has launched its planned counteroffensive in areas controlled by Russian forces in the south and east of the country. Flooding the area could be a tactic to delay Ukrainian forces, who have waited months for the frozen soil to thaw and dry.
U.S. officials on Monday pointed to increased attacks and shelling by Ukrainian forces, which have been equipped with advanced Western weapons in recent months, as evidence of this. Meanwhile, Ukrainian and Russian officials on Monday reported an advance by forces in the Bakhmut region, which Moscow seized only weeks ago at the end of the longest battle since the war began in February 2022.
Ukraine's allies condemned the damage to the dam, which they called a war crime, and sided with Kyiv. British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said it was too early to assess exactly what happened at the dam, but added that either way, it was the fault of Russia's invasion. He made the remarks during his visit to the country, promising that London would continue to support Kyiv in its defense against the Russian invasion - including with the weapons it needs.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, whose alliance Ukraine aspires to join, said it was another example of the brutality of Russia's war. According to him, the destruction of the dam endangers thousands of civilians and causes severe environmental damage. "This is an outrageous act, proving once again the brutality of Russia's war in Ukraine," he wrote on Twitter.
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