Russia and Ukraine accused the other of causing a major dam on the Dnieper river in a Russian-controlled region of Ukraine to collapse, unleashing floodwaters and threatening supply lines and energy facilities.
Ukraine said Russia blew up the Soviet-era Nova Kakhovka dam and hydroelectric power station in a strategy of “destroying the economy and life support structures,” according to Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine Oleksiy Danilov, while Russia said Ukraine intentionally struck at the dam, according to The Washington Post. Damage to the structure jeopardized water supplies needed to cool the nearby Zapporhizya nuclear power plant, triggered evacuation warnings and initiated flooding across the front lines.
“The destruction of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant dam only confirms for the whole world that they must be expelled from every corner of Ukrainian land,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wrote on the Telegram messaging app, according to Reuters.
He said Russian forces mined the dam, setting off explosions at 2:50 a.m. local time Tuesday morning, according to The Associated Press. However, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov called the incident “a deliberate act of sabotage” by the Ukrainian army.
Videos on social media showed massive sections, appearing in the hundreds of feet, missing from the dam, according to the Post.
The dam’s collapse represents a “fundamentally new stage of Russian aggression,” Danilov said.
Ukraine’s foreign minister condemned Russia for endangering thousands of civilians and perpetrating what could be “Europe’s largest technological disaster in decades” in a social media statement. The interior ministry also alleged Russian forces were shelling on Ukrainian civilians as they tried to flee the area, according to a Post translation.
Russian forces occupying Eastern Ukraine control the dam, which creates a canal for water supplies to the Crimean Peninsula, according to the Post. Moscow seized the dam and canal in one of its first moves during the beginning stages of the war, securing water flow to occupied Crimea.
International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi warned the two sides against further actions that could endanger civilians and disrupt the nuclear power plant’s functioning but that the facility faced “no immediate risk.”
A multi-hundred foot chunk of the Nova Kakhovka dam is gone, the Kakhovka Reservoir is quickly emptying out into the Dnipro. pic.twitter.com/265i1nbvAO
— OSINTtechnical (@Osinttechnical) June 6, 2023
It was not immediately clear if either side had motivation to cause damage to the dam, the AP reported, citing experts, while other analysts said the structure already existed in a state of disrepair.
Flooding could harm both Russian defensive structures and Ukrainian Armed Forces’ ability to cross the Dnieper and reclaim occupied territory, retired U.S. Gen. Mark Hertling, a military analyst for CNN, said in a social media statement.
“This will affect the offensive & Ukraine in a big way,” he added, without specifying details.
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