Ukraine: Russia Blows Up Dam in Latest 'War Crime'

Thousands live in flood zone along Dnipro River
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 6, 2023 6:55 AM CDT
Ukraine: Russia Blows Up Dam in Latest 'War Crime'
In this image taken from video released by the Ukrainian Presidential Office, water runs through a breakthrough in the Kakhovka dam in Kakhovka, Ukraine, Tuesday, June 6, 2023.   (Ukrainian Presidential Office via AP)

Ukraine accuses Russia of blowing up a dam in the Russian-occupied Kherson region, threatening catastrophic flooding. The Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant in Nova Kakhovka, one of six dams along the Dnipro River, holds as much water as Utah's Great Salt Lake, per Reuters. Images show most of the 100-foot dam wall destroyed as water gushes downstream. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said 80 communities were in the flood zone. Eight villages have already been completely flooded, Oleksandr Prokudin, head of the regional military administration, said early Tuesday, per the BBC. He said 16,000 people were in a "critical zone" on the Ukrainian-controlled northern bank of the river, though flooding is expected to be worse along the Russian-controlled southern bank.

Evacuations are underway in several communities including the city of Kherson, whose harbor and docklands "are likely to be inundated," per the Guardian. But there are concerns beyond flooding. The power plant supplies water to various upstream communities as well as the Crimean peninsula and is important for irrigation. It also provides cooling water for the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station, about 100 miles upstream. The International Atomic Energy Agency is monitoring the situation but says there is "no immediate nuclear safety risk at the plant."

Ukraine's military intelligence agency said Russian forces blew up the dam in "an obvious act of terrorism and a war crime, which will be evidence in an international tribunal," per Reuters. Russian forces have attacked dams throughout Ukraine, per the BBC, which notes the road over the dam would've allowed Ukrainian forces to move troops into Russian-held territory. According to the Guardian, the bridge was the only river crossing south of Zaporizhzia after retreating Russians destroyed the Antonivksy road bridge at Kherson in November.

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The "internal detonation ... only confirms for the whole world that [the Russians] must be expelled from every corner of Ukrainian land," Zelensky responded, per Reuters. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov instead claimed "deliberate sabotage" by Ukraine in an effort to "deprive Crimea of water," per CNN. Some Russian officials say the upper part of the power plant was destroyed by shelling, but others say the dam burst on its own. If that is the case, the Russians may ultimately be to blame "due to 6 weeks of over-topping and stress on the structure," according to former US military meteorologist David Helms. Experts say the reservoir's water level reached a 30-year high last month as Russian occupiers had opened few sluice gates, per the Guardian. (More Russia-Ukraine war stories.)

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