A major dam and hydro-electric power plant in Russian-occupied southern Ukraine was destroyed early Tuesday, prompting mass evacuations and fears for large-scale devastation as Ukraine accused Moscow’s forces of committing an act of “ecocide.”
Residents downstream from the Nova Kakhova dam on the Dnipro River in Kherson were told to “do everything you can to save your life,” according to the head of Ukraine’s Kherson regional military administration, as video showed a deluge of water gushing from a huge breach in the dam.
Here's what we know:
- What happened: According to Ukraine's military intelligence, the dam was blown up by Russian forces "in panic." Two videos posted to social media and geolocated by CNN showed the destroyed dam wall and fast-moving torrents of water flowing out into the river. Multiple buildings at the entrance to the dam were also heavily damaged. The Russian-installed mayor of Nova Kakhovka initially denied the dam had collapsed, but then said it was struck in a "serious terrorist attack," before he later confirmed repairing it "is not possible now."
- Major infrastructure: The critical dam spanned the Dnipro River, a major waterway running through southeastern Ukraine. There are multiple towns and cities downstream, including Kherson, a city of some 300,000 people before Moscow’s invasion of its neighbor.
- Evacuations ongoing: In a video statement posted on Telegram, Oleksandr Prokudin, the Ukraine-appointed head of the Kherson regional military administration, said the water "will reach critical level" in a matter of hours. Prokudin said evacuations in the “area of danger” around the dam had started and urged citizens: "Leave the dangerous areas immediately."
- Ukraine blames Russia: Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said the dam’s destruction would “create obstacles" for Ukrainian offensives. “This once again confirms that the Kremlin is not thinking strategically, but rather in terms of short-term situational advantages. But the consequences are already catastrophic,” he told CNN.
- Downplayed threat: Andrey Alekseenko, another Russian-installed Kherson official, played down the threat, however. "There is no threat to people’s lives," Alekseenko said, adding that Ministry of Emergency Situation staff are in control of water levels in the Dnipro River. “If necessary, we are ready to evacuate the residents of embankment villages, buses are prepared,” Alekseenko added.
- Ecological impact: Ukraine's Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said the destroyed dam "threatens an environmental disaster" for the south of Ukraine, while another top Ukrainian official called the destruction "ecocide."
- EU condemnation: European Council President Charles Michel appeared to blame Russia. “Shocked by the unprecedented attack of the Nova Kakhovka dam,” he said on Twitter. “The destruction of civilian infrastructure clearly qualifies as a war crime — and we will hold Russia and its proxies accountable.”
- Nuclear watch: The International Atomic Energy Agency said its experts are "closely monitoring the situation" and there is "no immediate nuclear safety risk" at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which lies upstream from the destroyed dam and is also under Russian control.