Ukraine’s military says Russian forces have blown up a large dam in southern Ukraine, while the Moscow-installed official in the city of Nova Kakhovka in the Russian-controlled portion of the country’s Kherson region blamed the dam’s destruction on Ukrainian shelling.
“The Kakhovka [reservoir] was blown up by the Russian occupying forces,” the southern command of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said on its Facebook page.
“The scale of the destruction, the speed and volumes of water, and the likely areas of inundation are being clarified,” the army said.
Ukraine’s military administration for the Kherson region called on people to be ready to evacuate from several villages on the right bank of the Dnipro river as water levels were rising following the destruction of the dam.
“The water level is rising and everyone who is in the danger zone must: Turn off all electrical appliances; take documents and essentials; take care of loved ones and pets; follow the instructions of rescuers and policemen,” the administration said on its Telegram messaging channel.
“About 16,000 people are in the critical zone on the right bank of the Kherson region,” Oleksandr Prokudin, head of the Kherson military administration, said on social media, adding that there was already flooding in eight areas along the Dnipro River.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called an emergency meeting of the country’s national security council following the attack at the dam, said Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine.
Zelenskyy later accused “Russian terrorists” of destroying the dam and said the outrage “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,” Zelenskyy wrote in a tweet.
“The terrorists will not be able to stop Ukraine with water, missiles or anything else,” he added.
Russian state news agency TASS quoted an unnamed source close to the matter as saying the dam was destroyed and the territory was flooding.
A second Russian state news agency, RIA Novosti, quoted the Moscow-installed mayor of Nova Kakhovka, Vladimir Leontiev, as saying the dam had been hit by shelling which he blamed on Ukraine.
“There were several hits” on the dam, he said, according to the news agency.
Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford, reporting from Kyiv, said that analysts had long seen the dam as a potential target for both sides in the war.
The dam is important in supplying water and irrigation for Russian-occupied Crimea, while Russia could see the destruction of the dam as a way of making it more difficult for Ukrainian forces to cross the Dnipro river and enter Crimea in a ground offensive, Stratford said.
“We are also hearing from the Ukrainians that they believe … water levels will reach a critical point around five hours from now. We also know there are ongoing evacuations from some of the settlements that are going to be affected,” he said.
The Soviet-era dam in the Russian-controlled part of the Kherson region could unleash a flood across the war zone, according to Ukrainian and Russian forces.
Unverified videos on social media showed a series of intense explosions around the Kakhovka dam.
Other videos showed water surging through the dam’s remains with bystanders expressing their shock, sometimes in strong language.
The dam, 30 metres (some 98 feet) tall and 3.2 km (2 miles) long, was built in 1956 on the Dnipro river as part of the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Station.
According to the Reuters news agency, the dam holds an 18-cubic-kilometre (4.3-cubic-mile) reservoir which supplies water to the Crimean peninsula, annexed by Russia in 2014, and to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, which is also under Russian control.
Ukraine’s nuclear operator Energoatom said in a Telegram statement that the blowing up of the dam “could have negative consequences for the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant”, but the situation is “controllable” at the moment.
The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency wrote on Twitter that its experts were closely monitoring the situation at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant upstream, and there was “no immediate nuclear safety risk” at the facility.
According to the Ukraine War Environmental Consequences Working Group, a total collapse in the dam would wash away much of the left bank and a severe drop in the reservoir has the potential to deprive the nuclear plant of crucial cooling, as well as dry up the water supply in northern Crimea.
Source: Al Jazzera