Kyiv has vowed that the destruction of the huge Nova Kakhovka dam and flooding of frontline areas in southeastern Ukraine will not derail its planned counter-offensive as it accused Russia’s occupation force of destroying the facility on the Dnipro river in a “panic”.
The Kremlin denied responsibility for the breach early on Tuesday morning, and accused Ukraine of sabotaging the dam and its hydroelectric power plant to restrict water flow to occupied Crimea and distract public attention from what it called the counter-offensive’s lack of early success.
“The destruction of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant dam only confirms for the whole world that (Russia) must be expelled from every corner of Ukrainian land … It’s only Ukraine’s victory that will return security. And this victory will come. The terrorists will not be able to stop Ukraine with water, missiles or anything else,” said Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Ukraine’s government said that more than 1,300 people on the Kyiv-controlled western bank of the Dnipro had been evacuated from the path of the flood waters by Tuesday afternoon, and 13 settlements had been inundated.
Russia’s army seized the dam and surrounding Kherson region shortly after launching its full invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. It was forced out of areas on the western side of the Dnipro last November and is now braced for Ukrainian military operations that could aim to cross the river and retake swathes of territory on the eastern bank.
“This terrorist act is a sign of the panic of the Putin regime and an attempt to complicate the actions of the Ukrainian security and defence forces,” said Ukraine’s military intelligence agency, referring to Russia’s leader of 23 years Vladimir Putin. “It will become a powerful piece of evidence at the international tribunal that undoubtedly awaits everyone involved in committing war crimes on the territory of Ukraine.”
The Ukrainian armed forces said they had planned for possible Russian destruction of the dam, and were “equipped with all watercraft and pontoon bridges needed for crossing water obstacles” and were “ready to liberate the occupied territories of Ukraine”.
Russia denied responsibility for the destruction of the dam, which was built by the Soviet Union in 1956 and created a reservoir holding some 18 cubic kilometres of water.
“We can state unequivocally that we are talking about deliberate sabotage by the Ukrainian side. The Kyiv regime should bear full responsibility for all the consequences,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. “Apparently this sabotage is also connected with the fact that, having started large-scale offensive actions two days ago, now the Ukrainian armed forces are not achieving their goals – these offensive actions are faltering.”
The dam’s vast reservoir feeds the North Crimean canal, another Soviet-era infrastructure project that is responsible for most of the water supply to the Black Sea peninsula, which Russia annexed from Kyiv in 2014. “Clearly one of the aims of this act of sabotage was to deprive Crimea of water – the water level in the reservoir is dropping and, accordingly, the water supply to the canal is being drastically reduced,” Mr Peskov said.
Sergei Aksyonov, Russian-installed governor of Crimea, said the region’s reservoirs were about 80 per cent full, meaning there was no immediate threat of a water shortage: “There is more than enough drinking water. Efforts are under way to minimise water losses in the canal.”
Ukrainian officials warned that environmental damage from the disaster could last for years or decades, and that threats to human and animal life ranged from chemicals washed into the river to landmines dislodged by the flood.
The destruction of the hydroelectric power plant will also further weaken a Ukrainian energy system that has been repeatedly targeted by Russian missile and drone strikes for more than six months.