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Nova Kakhovka, a major dam and hydroelectric power plant in the Russian-occupied southern Kherson region, suffered a collapse early Tuesday.
The breach is what a United Nations aid chief said is possibly the "most significant incident of damage to civilian infrastructure” since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine."
The incident has prompted mass evacuations, flooding and fears for large-scale devastation. According to the Nova Kakhovka zoo, 300 animals died Tuesday in the collapse's aftermath.
Ukrainian troops witnessed Russian soldiers being swept up in flood waters and fleeing the east bank of the Dnipro River after the collapse, an officer in Ukraine's armed forces said. Many Russian troops were killed or wounded in the chaos, according to the officer.
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Pointing fingers. Both Kyiv and Moscow accused each other of being behind the major breach of the dam, although it is not clear whether the dam was deliberately attacked or whether the collapse was the result of structural failure. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has described the collapse as “an environmental bomb of mass destruction” while the Russian Foreign Ministry said it was caused by an “act of sabotage” by Ukraine. Deputy US Ambassador Robert Wood added his voice too, accusing Russia's war in Ukraine of being responsible for the catastrophic damage following the breach.
Dam collapse aftermath. In a frontline city like Kherson — where the shelling is constant — the rising water brings an added danger. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) said it is working closely with humanitarian partners to assist those impacted by flooding from the collapsed dam. Several Ukrainian regions that get some of their water supply from the reservoir of the Nova Kakhovka dam are making efforts to conserve water. British intelligence agencies are investigating the collapse, Prime Minster Rishi Sunak said Tuesday, according to UK's PA Media. And according to Ukraine's state nuclear regulatory inspectorate, problems due to the collapse can be avoided at the Zaporizhzhia power plant if "necessary measures are taken."
Funding aid to Ukraine. Michael McCaul, House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, said he believes Congress will pass more funding for Ukraine, despite Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s warning that more funding for the war must fall under the budget caps in the new debt ceiling law. Also, Ukraine is waiting for final agreements with its allies on the delivery of F-16 jets, Zelensky told journalists on Tuesday.
Nord Stream pipelines developments. The US received intelligence from a European ally last year that the Ukrainian military was planning an attack on the Nord Stream natural gas pipelines three months before they were hit, three US officials told CNN. The attack on the pipelines last September has been condemned by US officials and Western allies alike as a sabotage on critical infrastructure. It is currently being investigated by other European nations.
In a frontline city like Kherson — where the shelling is constant — the rising water brings an added danger.
“This is both a water element and a mine hazard, because mines float here and this area is constantly under fire,” the head of Kherson region military administration, Oleksandr Prokudin told CNN. “We will work around the clock, rescuers will not rest. We’ll change shifts and will pull people out if necessary."
Prokudin, who has been overseeing rescue efforts in towns and cities downstream from Nova Kakhovka, said the operation has become more difficult with time as flood waters continue to rise.
“If in the morning we could do it with cars, then with trucks, now we see that big cars can no longer pass,” he explained. “The water has risen so much that we are now using boats. About eight boats of various types are currently working to evacuate people from the area.”
Artillery salvos could be heard intermittently, but search and rescue operations carried on, with soldiers and first responders unfazed by the constant thuds.
The large presence of soldiers and first responders contrasts with the very few Kherson residents out on the streets. Many fled when Russia first invaded and officials say most still haven’t returned to the city that is controlled by Ukraine. Those who remain in the city know to take shelter in the afternoon when Russian artillery fire often picks up.
“It is always very dangerous here. This checkpoint is usually under shelling,” Produkin said. “You see a crowd of people and I think the hit will happen soon.”
British intelligence agencies are investigating the collapse of the Nova Kakhovka dam in southern Ukraine, Prime Minster Rishi Sunak said Tuesday, according to UK's PA Media.
"Our military and intelligence agencies are currently looking at it, so it's too soon to pre-empt that and make a definitive judgment," Sunak told reporters as he traveled to Washington for talks with US President Joe Biden, according to PA Media.
"But what I can say is if it is intentional, it would represent, I think, the largest attack on civilian infrastructure in Ukraine since the start of the war, and just would demonstrate the new lows that we would have seen from Russian aggression," he continued. "Attacks on civilian infrastructure are appalling and wrong. We've seen previous instances of that in this conflict so far, but it's too early to say definitively."
When asked if he will discuss the issue with Biden during their meeting on Thursday, Sunak said: "Of course, I'll be discussing Ukraine with President Biden, generally, but the immediate response is humanitarian."
"We had already put resources and funding in place to support both the UN and the Red Cross to respond to situations like this," Sunak added. "And they are now being able to divert those resources to particularly help the humanitarian response and the evacuation in this area as a result of what's happened."
The US received intelligence from a European ally last year that the Ukrainian military was planning an attack on the Nord Stream natural gas pipelines three months before they were hit, three US officials told CNN.
The attack on the pipelines last September has been condemned by US officials and Western allies alike as a sabotage on critical infrastructure. It is currently being investigated by other European nations.
The intelligence assessment was first disclosed by The Washington Post, which obtained the document from a trove of classified documents allegedly leaked on the social media platform Discord by Air National Guardsman Jack Teixeira.
CNN has not seen the document, but the three officials confirmed the US was told about the Ukrainian plans.
According to the Post, the intelligence cited a source in Ukraine, which said Western allies “had a basis to suspect Kyiv in the sabotage” for almost a year. The intelligence said that those who may have been responsible were reporting directly to Ukraine’s commander in chief, Valerii Zaluzhnyi, “who was put in charge so that Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, wouldn’t know about the operation,” the Post reported.
But, the intelligence also said that Ukraine’s military operation was “put on hold.”
CNN has reached out to the Ukrainian government for comment.
White House National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby declined to address the reporting directly on Tuesday.
“I think you know there are three countries conducting an investigation of the Nord Stream sabotage — and we called it sabotage at the moment — Germany, Sweden, and Denmark. Those investigations are ongoing and again the last thing that we’re going to want to do from this podium is get ahead of those investigations,” Kirby said.
The news comes less than a year after leaks caused by underwater explosions were discovered in the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines, which funnel gas from Russia into the European Union and run under the Baltic Sea. The pipelines were controversial before the war in Ukraine began, stoking concerns about European dependence on Russian gas.
Flooding from the collapsed Ukrainian dam has killed 300 animals at the Nova Kakhovka zoo, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry tweeted Tuesday.
“This is ecocide," the ministry said. "The Russians want to destroy anything that is alive.”
Several Ukrainian regions that get some of their water supply from the reservoir of the Nova Kakhovka dam, which collapsed overnight, are making efforts to conserve water.
In the Dnipropetrovsk region, the local authorities have asked people in the Nikopol and Kryvyi Rih districts – parts of which are supplied by the reservoir – to "stock technical water and drinking water." Serhii Lysak, the Ukrainian regional governor clarified on Telegram that “both of them have water available as of now."
About 70% of the city of Kryvyi Rih was supplied by the reservoir, Oleksandr Vilkul, the head of the city military administration, said on his Telegram channel, adding that the situation there is difficult but controlled.
Vilkul listed a number of measures to conserve water, including reducing water pressure overnight, asking businesses to limit consumption and banning the use of hoses.
“We realized the risks of not having Kakhovka water a year ago and have already implemented a large list of technical measures to ensure the city's life in these conditions, which now gives us a head start,” he said.
In the Nikopol district, all water utilities are operating normally, according to the local authority.
Officials are asking people not to use their stockpiled water “as long as there is water in the tap and in the store. This is your stockpile for the period when the water is gone and the water delivery will just start. Of course, if such a period comes.”
In the Ukrainian-held part of the Zaporizhzhia region, only one settlement may face challenges with its water supply, said Yurii Malashko, the head of the Ukrainian regional military administration. That would only occur if the water levels dropped below 14 meters, in which case Malashko said there would be water tankers to supply drinking water.
Michael McCaul, House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, said he believes Congress will pass more funding for Ukraine, despite Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s warning that more funding for the war must fall under the budget caps in the new debt ceiling law.
Senate Republican critics of the law say Pentagon funding levels are insufficient and are calling on Congress to a pass a new separate spending package — known on Capitol Hill as a supplemental — to provide aid to Ukraine in its war against Russia.
But McCarthy has thrown cold water on calls for a supplemental, and McCaul seemed to side with the speaker.
"If your first process is 'I need a supplemental,' you’re not paying attention, not you, but the Senators are not paying attention to how the system works," McCaul said. "We will go through the appropriations process and we will do the numbers that we just agreed to. The idea that they think they are going to go around it is not going to work.”
McCaul also called on the US President Joe Biden's administration to provide more to Ukraine from funds Congress already appropriated.
"I just got out of a briefing with some of the Ukraine forces and, you know, they're prepared to mount this counteroffensive, and my criticism of the administration is they haven't given them everything they need,” he said. “They won't get in the long range artillery to hit Crimea. So now Britain has done that, the Brits and the French. They need the cluster munitions and we won't give them. Finally the F-16s under threat, under pressure from the G7, but they don't have the pilots, it'll take three to six months for that.”
The collapse of the Nova Kakhovka dam is possibly the “most significant incident of damage to civilian infrastructure” since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to Martin Griffiths, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.
The dam is a lifeline in the region as a critical water source for millions of people in Kherson as well as Dnipro and Zaporizhzhia oblasts, he said, and a key source of agricultural irrigation in southern Kherson and the Crimean peninsula – impacting farming and food production.
Griffiths added that a severe impact is expected in Russian-occupied areas where humanitarian agencies are still struggling to gain access.
The UN aid chief, speaking to the Security Council on Tuesday, also highlighted the danger fast-moving water poses to the risks of mine and explosive ordinance contamination, displacing the projectiles to areas previously assessed as safe.
Griffiths pointed out the impact the dam’s collapse will have on electricity generation and the safety of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.
“The damage caused by the dam’s destruction means that life will become intolerably harder for those already suffering from the conflict,” Griffiths said, “The consequences of not being able to deliver assistance to the millions of people affected by the flooding in these areas are potentially catastrophic.”