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Dam Collapse in Southern Ukraine Amplifies Ecological and Military Crisis

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Kyiv and Moscow accuse each other of striking a dam in a Russia-controlled region in southeastern Ukraine.

The wall of a major dam in a region of southern Ukraine controlled by Moscow collapsed on Tuesday following a reported explosion. The breach resulted in a rush of water downriver and prompted urgent evacuations due to the potential ecological damage. The incident has significant implications, including flooding downstream areas, diminishing water levels upstream necessary for cooling Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, and impacting the water supply in Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed.

The collapse of the Kakhovka dam introduces a complex new element to Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine, which has been ongoing for 16 months. Ukrainian forces had been anticipated to launch a counteroffensive over 1,000 kilometres of the front line in the eastern and southern parts of Ukraine.

The damage caused by the dam collapse could potentially hinder Ukraine’s counteroffensive in the south while simultaneously affecting Russia’s water supply to the illegally annexed Crimea region, which heavily relies on the dam.

Ukraine has accused Russian forces of deliberately blowing up the Kakhovka dam and hydroelectric power station, while Russian officials have blamed Ukrainian military strikes in the contested area. However, the veracity of these claims could not be independently verified.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, addressing reporters in Russia, accused the Ukrainian side of “deliberate sabotage” as part of their counteroffensive efforts.

In response to the incident, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urgently convened a meeting of the National Security Council. He claimed that Russian forces detonated an explosion within the dam structure at 2:50 a.m. local time, putting approximately 80 settlements in danger.

Energoatom, Ukraine’s nuclear operator, stated in a Telegram message that the dam’s destruction could negatively affect the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest, but clarified that the situation is currently under control. The United Nations atomic watchdog added that the power plant should have enough water from a nearby dam’s reservoir for several months. The International Atomic Energy Agency called for preserving the cooling pond next to the plant.

Leaders of the European Union, NATO, and Ukraine’s allies expressed condemnation for the destruction of the dam. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau referred to the event as “absolutely devastating for lives and livelihoods,” highlighting the catastrophic consequences of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.

Ukrainian authorities had previously warned that the dam’s failure could result in releasing 18 million cubic meters of water, flooding the city of Kherson and numerous other areas where hundreds of thousands of people reside. The World Data Center for Geoinformatics and Sustainable Development estimated that almost 100 villages and towns would be flooded, and it predicted that the water levels would only recede after five to seven days.

Videos circulating online showcased the overflow of floodwaters, submerging roads, and displacing wildlife, such as a beaver seeking higher ground.

The Ukrainian Interior Ministry urged residents of ten villages and parts of Kherson downstream to gather essential documents, secure their pets, turn off appliances, and evacuate while cautioning against possible disinformation.

The Russian-appointed mayor of occupied Nova Kakhovka, Vladimir Leontyev, confirmed the city’s evacuation as water poured in.

The Dnipro River, controlled by Ukraine, runs from the country’s northern border with Belarus to the Black Sea and is crucial for the entire country’s drinking water and power supply. Ukraine controls five of the six dams along the river.

Footage from a monitoring camera overlooking the dam, circulating on social media, purportedly showed a flash, explosion, and subsequent dam rupture.

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