Ukraine dam explosion among "largest disasters" in decades, putting thousands at risk
Kherson, Ukraine - Russian authorities in occupied southern Ukraine declared a state of emergency following the disastrous damage done to the huge Kakhovka dam and its hydroelectric power plant.
The blast is one of the most significant single incidents in recent months during the war in Ukraine, and brought fears of widespread flooding of residential areas, environmental damage and power supply disruption.
"The city is flooded," said Vladimir Leontyev, the Moscow-appointed mayor of Nova Kakhovka, the city by the Kakhovka dam. The power plant is also underwater, he said.
On the Russian-occupied side of the Dnipro River, Leontyev said a total of 600 houses in three regions were affected by severe flooding.
Many thousands more people may be affected downstream as the water unleashed from the reservoir behind the dam cascade down the river.
According to local authorities, about 16,000 people are currently in a "critical zone." The Ukrainian government is also warning of an environmental disaster.
Ukraine decries "largest technological disaster in decades"
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dymtro Kuleba condemned the attack on the dam and hydroelectric plant in the Russian-occupied part of the Kherson region as a "heinous war crime."
It was "probably Europe’s largest technological disaster in decades" and put thousands of civilians at risk, he wrote on Twitter.
Andriy Yermak, head of the presidential office in Kiev, on Tuesday called for Russia to lose its seat on the UN Security Council.
The Kremlin meanwhile accused Ukraine of "sabotage" and said that Kiev was responsible for destroying the dam.
"We officially declare that this is clearly a case of deliberate sabotage by the Ukrainian side, planned and carried out on the orders (...) of the Kyiv regime," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said.
Such explanations were rejected by Western leaders, who have supported Ukraine throughout the conflict. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg condemned the destruction of the Kakhovka dam as "an outrageous act."
"The destruction of the Kakhovka dam today puts thousands of civilians at risk," Stoltenberg tweeted.
The Kakhovka dam on the Dnipro River lies about 19 miles east of the city of Kherson, which is held by Ukrainian forces.
Further upstream lies the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant which relies on water from the Dnipro for cooling its reactors.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said there is no immediate danger to the Zaporizhzhya plant.
The flooding in the area could affect plans for a planned Ukrainian counteroffensive, but the Ukrainian military said it would not be slowed down.
The Ukrainian armed forces said on Tuesday that it had "all the necessary boats and pontoon bridges to overcome water obstacles."
The Russian occupiers had blown up the dam in southern Ukraine "out of fear of the Ukrainian army," the military wrote on Telegram.
Cover photo: via REUTERS