KHERSON: An attack on a major Russian-held dam in southern Ukraine on Tuesday unleashed a torrent of water that flooded a small city, two dozen villages and sparked the evacuation of 17,000 people.
Moscow and Kyiv traded blame for ripping a gaping hole in the Kakhovka dam in what Kyiv said was an attempt by Russia to hamper Ukraine’s long-awaited offensive.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres describing it as “another devastating consequence of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.” “Attacks against civilians and critical civilian infrastructure must stop. We must act to ensure accountability and respect for international humanitarian law,” Guterres told reporters.
People in the city of Kherson, the largest population centre nearby, headed for higher ground as water, which had been held back by the dam and a hydroelectric plant, rose in the Dnipro River.
Moscow and Kyiv trade blame for destruction; UN chief terms dam burst ‘a consequence’ of Russia’s invasion
Ukrainian authorities said 17,000 people were being evacuated and a total of 24 villages had been flooded.
“Over 40,000 people are in danger of being flooded,” Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin said, adding that 25,000 more people should be evacuated on the Russian-occupied side of the Dnipro River.
Vladimir Leontyev, the Moscow-installed mayor of Nova Kakhovka where the dam is located, said the city was underwater and 900 people had been evacuated.
He said 53 evacuation buses were being sent by the authorities to take people from Nova Kakhovka and two other settlements nearby to safety.
“We are organising temporary accommodation centres with hot meals,” he said.
The Kakhovka dam and its power plant were seized by Russia in the first hours of the war.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of blowing up the dam, urging the world to “react.” He said Russia had carried out “an internal explosion of the structures” of the plant at 2:50am local time (2350 GMT).
“This crime carries enormous threats and will have dire consequences for people’s lives and the environment,” Zelensky told a Vatican peace envoy, Italian cardinal Matteo Zuppi, in Kyiv, the presidency said.
Ukraine and Russia have both asked the UN Security Council to meet to discuss the dam. Kyiv warned of a potential “ecocide” after 150 tonnes of engine oil spilled into the river as a result of the attack.
Western powers also blamed Russia for the damage to the Kakhovka dam, with EU chief Charles Michel calling it a “war crime.” Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg said the dam breach was “outrageous” and “puts thousands of civilians at risk and causes severe environmental damage.” Russia however said the dam was partially destroyed by “multiple strikes” coming from Ukrainian forces.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the destruction was the result of “deliberate sabotage by the Ukrainian side.” The Soviet-era dam sits on the Dnipro River, which provides cooling water for the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.
Published in Dawn, June 7th, 2023