Press play to listen to this article
Voiced by artificial intelligence.
KIEV – Ukraine has blamed Russia for explosions at a key dam, which have unleashed massive floods and threatened 80 settlements in what Kiev says is a last-ditch effort to derail its counteroffensive.
In a declarationUkraine’s Southern Operational Command said « Russian occupation troops blew up the dam » at Nova Kakhovka in Kherson region of eastern Ukraine.
Politicians from the EU and Ukraine have labeled the attack, which could lead to an ecological catastrophe in the region and raised safety concerns at the nearby Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, a potential war crime.
Blaming « Russian terrorists » Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy She said on Twitter that « the destruction of the Kakhovka hydroelectric dam only confirms for the whole world that they must be expelled from every corner of the Ukrainian land. » He added that « all services are working » and said he had convened his National Security and Defense Council.
The Soviet-era Nova Kakhovka Dam connects the Dnieper River in Ukraine, holding back up to 18 cubic kilometers of water, the equivalent of Utah’s Great Salt Lake. Nova Kakhovka also supplies water to the Crimea peninsula, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014. The dam serves as one of three major crossings along the Dnieper.
The operator of the plant, the Ukrainian state-owned Ukrhydroenergo, confirmed in a statement that “as a result of explosions in the engine room, the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant was completely destroyed. It is not recoverable ».
According to the company, the leak from the reservoir is also a new threat to the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, where there have been repeated warnings that fighting could trigger a major catastrophe.
« Water from the Kakhovka reservoir is needed for the power plant’s turbines and safety systems, » Ukrhydroenergo said. “The fixed cooling pond is currently full. Ukrainian nuclear power plant personnel are monitoring all indicators.”
The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed his « Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant experts are closely monitoring the situation. » But the agency assured that there is « no immediate risk to nuclear safety at the plant ».
In a message posted on Telegram, the head of the Kherson region, Oleksandr Prokudin, said that due to the explosions « the water will reach a critical level in 5 hours » and residents of nearby areas will be forced to leave their homes. « About 16,000 people on the right bank of Kherson are in the critical area, » he said, adding that residents would be evacuated by bus. According to the Ukrainian side, about 80 villages are at risk.
Russian mayor of Nova Kakhovka Vladimir Leontiev has denied allegations that the dam was sabotaged by Kremlin forces and said Ukraine was responsible for the damage, according to Russian state media. Leontiev has not provided any evidence for his claims.
Ukraine has been sounding the alarm about the potential dam disaster for nearly a year.
In October, Zelenskyy claimed Russia had undermined the dam his speech to the European Council, and called for international observers to be sent to the powerhouse. At the time, Zelensky said Ukraine expected Russia to « carry out a terrorist attack and blame Ukraine for it. »
In November, after Kiev troops launched a major counteroffensive, Russian forces blew the gates at the Nova Kakhovka dam in an apparent attempt to slow the advance.
Andrii Yermak, head of the Ukrainian president’s office, said in a tweet on Tuesday that it would be in Russia’s interest to blow the dam now to halt the expected Kiev counter-offensive. Ukrainian forces are expected to rely heavily on tanks this summer and hot and dry climate it is the key to their success on the battlefield. Tanks, as well as other heavy machinery, struggle in muddy terrain and water.
“Just looking at the situation it seems that Russia would have more reason to blow up the dam while the Ukrainians are preparing and have already started their counter-offensive,” Sergey Radchenko, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, told POLITICO. It will certainly make it more difficult for Ukrainians to cross the river. »
European Council President Charles Michel said the explosions at the dam could constitute a war crime.
“The destruction of civilian infrastructure clearly qualifies as a war crime – and we will hold Russia and its proxies accountable,” Michel tweeted.
Foreign Minister of Ukraine Dmytro Kuleba She said Russia is « inflicting probably the biggest European technological disaster in decades and putting thousands of civilians at risk », adding that it could constitute a « heinous war crime ».
At the same time as the dam was destroyed early Tuesday, Russia launched a massive missile attack on Ukraine. The country’s Air Defense Forces said it had shot down all 35 cruise missiles launched by Russia, most aimed at the capital, Kiev.
The news of the dam explosions also came hours after Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said on Monday that Kiev’s troops were « moving to offensive actions » as part of growing expectations that the country will launch a major effort to recapture the occupied territory to the east.
This is a developing story.
Veronika Melkozerova reported from Kiev. Victor Jack contributed to the reporting.