A critical dam on the Dnipro River in southern Ukraine burst late Tuesday, endangering thousands of people living downstream. It is not yet clear who caused the breach. Ukraine blamed Russia, saying there had been an explosion in the engine room. Russia said Ukrainian forces had carried out the sabotage attack.
Ukrainian officials on Tuesday started evacuating people in the Kherson region as a huge volume of water gushed from the dam’s reservoir. The flooding is expected to continue to increase throughout the night and reach a peak on Wednesday morning, the head of the state-owned hydroelectric company said in an interview.
The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, condemned the destruction of the Kakhovka hydroelectric dam, calling it a “monumental human, economic and ecological catastrophe” and “yet yet another example of the terrible cost of war on humanity.”
The dam is near the front line of the war.
Video of the dam, in the town of Nova Kakhovka, reviewed by The New York Times does not reveal the cause of the destruction. But they show water flowing freely through the dam, suggesting extensive damage.
The disaster came one day after American and Russian officials said a planned Ukrainian counteroffensive appeared to have started east of the Dnipro in the Donetsk region. Flooding could distract both sides from the counterattack.
Located near the war front in the southern Kherson region, the dam and nearby infrastructure have been damaged by shelling during the war. Last year, Russian troops took control of a dam and a nearby hydroelectric plant. Ukraine now says the power plant is “unrecoverable.”
Russia and Ukraine blame each other.
On Tuesday, Russia and Ukraine blamed each other for the destruction, without providing evidence.
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine blamed “Russian terrorists”, while Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry S. Peskov, blamed Ukrainian troops, describing what happened as a “sabotage” attack.
“They decided that now, in this way, they would be able to stop the Ukrainian troops’ counterattack,” Natalia Humeniuk, spokeswoman for Ukraine’s southern command, said. to Radio Svoboda Tuesday.
Sergei K. Shoigu, Russia’s defense minister, accused Ukraine of destroying the dam, saying Kyiv wanted to transfer troops and equipment defending Kherson to another front to aid in its counteroffensive.
The safety of the dam, a vital source of water and electricity, remained a concern throughout the war, with both sides accusing each other of plotting to destroy it.
Thousands of people are threatened.
Communities along the waterways are at risk of being flooded and washed away. About 16,000 people are in the “critical zone” on the west bank of the Ukrainian-controlled Dnipro River, said Oleksandr Prokudin, regional military administrator. Another 25,000 people are in the path of the floods on the Russian side, according to a Ukrainian official.
In telephone interviews arranged by a group distributing humanitarian aid in Antonivka, residents described how they witnessed rising water creeping from house to house. They were keeping their distance from the riverbank, where Russian snipers on the opposite side had in the past opened fire on residents, they said.
The east bank of the river, south of the dam, is controlled by Russian forces.
The damage threatens to disrupt the vital services provided by the dam’s reservoir. This will lead to a severe shortage of drinking water in the Dnipro, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions, said Ihor Syrota, head of the hydroelectric company.
Floods can also wash mines from their original position to previously safe areas. And Russian officials say the destruction could create problems for the canals that supply Crimea with water.
It also provides water for reactor cooling and spent fuel at the nearby Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, but Ukrainian officials and the UN nuclear watchdog said Tuesday that the facility was not at immediate risk of melting from dam damage.