Ukrainian dam destroyed in blow to counter-offensive

Water pours through one of the breaches in the Nova Kahkovka dam
Water pours through one of the breaches in the Nova Kahkovka dam

A vast dam in southern Ukraine has been destroyed in what could be a major blow to the counter-offensive against Russia.

In the early hours of Tuesday morning, the Soviet-era Nova Kakhovka dam, which holds as much water as the Great Salt Lake in Utah, was blown, unleashing a flood of water across the region.

Rising waters could prevent further Ukrainian advances in the south and threaten the safety of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.

The 30-metre tall dam traverses the Dnipro river about 20 miles east of the city of Kherson, and provides a road crossing to the Russian-controlled east.

The water held by the dam helps cool the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant and also supplies drinking water to Russian-occupied Crimea.

Both Kyiv and Moscow have blamed the other side for destroying the Nova Kakhovka, which has been the target for repeated strikes since the start of the war.

The destruction of the dam would be a significant achievement for Russian forces as they prepare to defend against Ukraine’s long-awaited counter-offensive.

The flooding would be likely to hinder the movement of Ukrainian armour as Kyiv’s armed forces attempt to push south towards Crimea, which was illegally annexed by Moscow in 2014.

Mykhailo Podolyak, a Ukrainian presidential aide, said the dam’s collapse would “create obstacles for the offensive actions of the Ukrainian armed forces”.

“This once again confirms that the Kremlin is not thinking strategically, but rather in terms of short-term situational advantages. But the consequences are already catastrophic,” he told CNN.

President Volodymyr Zelensky, who convened an emergency meeting of his top security team, blamed Russia, saying the dam’s destruction “only confirms for the whole world” that Russian forces “must be expelled from every corner of Ukrainian land”.

“The Russians will be responsible for the possible deprivation of drinking water for people in the south of Kherson region and in Crimea, the possible destruction of some settlements and the biosphere,” said Andriy Yermak, the president’s chief of staff.

In a post on his Telegram social media channel, Mr Zelensky accused the Russians of using an “internal detonation” to collapse the dam.

Swans and beavers in the streets

Charles Michel, the European Council president, also blamed “Russia and its proxies” for the damage in a post on Twitter.

The local Russian-installed mayor of Nova Kakhovka called the apparent strike a “terrorist act”.

Footage shared on social media showed a series of intense explosions around the dam, part of a hydroelectric power plant constructed in 1956. Other videos showed water spilling uncontrollably from the 200-metre-wide structure.

Later, the Palace of Culture in Russian-occupied Nova Kakhovka was pictured underwater following the destruction of the dam. Swans were also pictured swimming in floods around the city’s administrative building and beavers were seen in the streets of Kherson downstream.

Witnesses said the hydroelectric plant was washed away after a deafening explosion unleashed a torrent of water.

But satellite imagery released by Planet Labs suggested the dam could have collapsed because of historic structural issues caused by earlier fighting around the facility.

The images appeared to show the road that runs over the dam was washed away between June 2-3, hinting at earlier problems.

Footage shared on social media showed flood waters rising in numerous areas around Kherson and the surrounding region. Some 80 settlements have been evacuated by Ukrainian authorities and highways were submerged.

Oleksandr Prokudin, the head of the Kherson military administration, said 16,000 people on the west bank of the Dnipro were in a “critical zone”.

He urged citizens to “collect your documents and most needed belongings and wait for evacuation buses”.

“I ask you to do everything you can to save your life. Leave the dangerous areas immediately,” he said.

Fears calmed at nuclear plant

Natalia Humeniuk, a spokesman for Ukraine’s southern military command, played down risks of a nuclear catastrophe at the Zaporizhzhia plant.

She said there was “no need to escalate the situation now and drawn the most critical conclusions”.

Because all experts are involved and will try to create better conditions to avoid the next technogenic catastrophe,” she added.

“The situation is currently under control.”

The UN’s International Atomic Energy agency also said there was “no immediate nuclear safety risk”.

At 8am local time, the cooling pond, which the dam helped to supply, was full, with the water level at “16.6 metres”, according to Ukraine’s state nuclear agency Energoatom.

Jens Stoltenberg, Nato’s secretary-general, said: “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.”

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