By Vasilisa Stepanenko - The Associated Press
KHERSON, Ukraine — The collapse of the Russian-occupied Nova Kakhovka dam in the southeast of Ukraine has caused severe flooding and a major humanitarian and environmental catastrophe around the Dnieper River, where hundreds of people have had to be evacuated and others have spent the night on rooftops.
Officials estimate the water will continue to rise after Tuesday's dramatic levee collapse, about 44 miles (70 kilometers) east of the city of Kherson, though the torrent was beginning to slow down.
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Ukraine accused Russian forces of blowing up the dam and the attached hydroelectric plant, which has been in an area controlled by the Kremlin for more than a year. Russian officials blamed the disaster on Ukrainian shelling in the disputed area, where the river separates the two sides. It is unclear who was responsible.
Russia acknowledged that the collapse of the dam on the Dnieper River, the dividing line between the Russian and Ukrainian armies in southern Ukraine, favors Kremlin troops. "From the military point of view, the operational and tactical situation is in favor of the Russian forces," he said on the Soloviev Live program, when asked how the collapse of the hydrological power plant and the flooding of the area will affect Russia's defense in the Kherson region.
People moved knee-deep in water in their flooded homes. Videos posted on social media showed rescuers taking people to safety. Aerial video showed water filling the streets of Nova Kakhovska, a Russian-controlled town on the riverbank's eastern bank.
Flooded streets in Kherson, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 7, 2023 following the blowing up of the Kakhovka Dam.Libkos/AP
The mayor of the town appointed by Russia, Vladimir Leontyev, said seven people were missing but that early indications indicated they might still be alive. Authorities in areas of Russian-controlled Kherson province reported 900 residents of Nova Kakhovska evacuated, 17 of them rescued from the roofs of flooded buildings.
In Ukraine-controlled areas of the West Bank, Oleksandr Prokudin, leader of the military administration in the Kherson region, said in a video that water was expected to rise about three feet (another meter) in the next 20 hours.
"The intensity of flooding is slightly reduced; However, due to the significant destruction of the dam, water will continue to arrive," he warned.
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Britain's Ministry of Defence, which has published regular reports on the war, said the water level in the Kakhova reservoir was at "record highs" before the rupture. Although not the entire structure of the dam had been washed away, the ministry warned that "it is likely to continue to deteriorate over the next few days, causing more flooding."
The dam and power plant provide electricity and water for irrigation and consumption to a wide expanse of southern Ukraine, including the Crimean Peninsula, which was illegally annexed by Russia in 2014.
Rescuers try to tow boats to carry evacuated neighbors from a flooded neighborhood in Kherson, Ukraine, Tuesday, June 6, 2023.
The government and United Nations officials have warned of a human and ecological catastrophe. Assessing the impact will take several days, and recovery will require much longer.
The dam collapse, long feared by both sides, has added a new dimension to Russia's 16-month-old war. Meanwhile, Ukrainian forces were advancing in stretches in an expected counteroffensive along the more than 621 miles (1,000 kilometers) front in the east and south.