June 6, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Jessie Yeung, Sana Noor Haq, Sebastian Shukla, Schams Elwazer, Caolán Magee, Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Elise Hammond, Maureen Chowdhury and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, June 7, 2023
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3:09 p.m. ET, June 6, 2023

Dam collapse could cause flooding in dozens of villages and settlements, Ukrainian energy expert says

From CNN’s Olga Voitovych and Yulia Kesaieva in Kyiv and Jo Shelley in London 

The collapse of the Nova Kakhovka Dam could flood "at least 37 villages and settlements" according to estimates from Ihor Syrota, the CEO of Ukrhydroenergo, which oversees all the hydropower plants in Ukraine — including the plant at Kakhovka before the Russians occupied it last year.

People who live on the Russian-occupied east bank of the Dnipro River face the “biggest threat” because they are located on lower ground, he said. 

Ukraine's Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko said he believes there could be up to 80 settlements affected in both Ukrainian-held and Russian-occupied territory.

“The west bank is higher, so there will be less flooding there,” Syrota said. 

However, even in Kherson city, on the west bank, “the water level will rise more than three meters,” Syrota said. 

Syrota said he thought water levels would peak on Wednesday morning at around 5 a.m. local time. 

“The water level will not fall after its peak. The water will continue to flow for two more days, and only on the fourth [day] may it start to fall,” he said. “I think that within eight to 10 days all this water will go down to the Black Sea. That is, eight to 10 days or so for the water to completely run off.” 

Syrota outlined some of the dangers of the dam breach. 

“The environmental consequences will, of course, be significant. First of all, the Kakhovka reservoir is likely to be drained to zero, and we understand that the number of fish will gradually go down," he said.

Syrota repeated the Ukrainian government’s version of events, which is that the Russian troops occupying the plant had “blown up the plant.” 

He said this “will have damaged the equipment at the plant,” causing oil to spill into the water. 

Both sides 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. 

“Four hundred tons of turbine oil is always there, in the units and in the block transformers that are usually installed on this equipment,” and some of the oil spilled out, he claimed. “It all depends on the level of destruction of the units and this equipment… If the damage is extensive, then all the oil will leak out.” 

Syrota said that the Kakhovka reservoir could not be blocked until the east bank was freed from Russian occupation, “because it needs to be blocked from the east bank to the west bank.” 

3:01 p.m. ET, June 6, 2023

CNN team on the ground observes water rising in flooded parts of the city of Kherson

From CNN staff

CNN correspondent Fred Pleitgen reported from the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, where several areas of the city have flooded following the collapse of the Nova Kakhovka dam. 

More than 1,000 people have been evacuated from Kherson and other Ukrainian-held parts of the region following the collapse, according to local officials.

"(In) the very short time that we've been on the ground here, we could see this water already rise considerably," Pleitgen reported.

Watch CNN's reporting:

3:21 p.m. ET, June 6, 2023

EU mobilizing support to help Ukraine after dam collapse, European Commission chief says 

From CNN’s Niamh Kennedy in London 

The European Union is mobilizing support to help Ukraine following the collapse of the Nova Kakhovka dam, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Tuesday, describing the collapse as it as “outrageous attack” from Russia.

“Russia will have to pay for the war crimes committed in Ukraine. The destruction of the dam, an outrageous attack on civilian infrastructure, puts at risk thousands of people in the Kherson region,” von der Leyen tweeted Tuesday. 

It is unclear what caused the dam to collapse, which came as Ukraine geared up for a widely anticipated counter-offensive. Both Ukrainian and Russian officials said the dam collapsed in an explosion and are blaming each other for it.

Russia has “strongly” rejected all responsibility for the incident with Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov saying Moscow “unequivocally” believes it to be “deliberate sabotage” by Ukraine. 

The EU is mobilizing support through its civil protection mechanism, von der Leyen said, adding that the bloc is working hard to ensure the rapid delivery of dirt water pumps, fire hoses, boats and mobile water purification stations. 

The leaders of member states, including those from Germany and Ireland, came out condemning the incident.

The bloc’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell didn’t hold back either, saying in a statement that the “attacks” represent a “new dimension of Russian atrocities.”   

2:17 p.m. ET, June 6, 2023

White House closely monitoring collapse of Ukraine's Nova Kakhovka dam

From CNN's DJ Judd

The White House is closely monitoring the impacts of the collapse of a major critical dam on the Dnipro River in Ukraine.

White House National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby said the United States is looking into reports of what could have possibly caused the collapse, but made clear that "we cannot say conclusively what happened at this point.”

"We've seen the reports that Russia was responsible for the explosion at the dam, which I would remind Russian forces took over illegally last year and have been occupying since then," Kirby said, adding that the US is working with Ukrainians to gather more information.

Kirby wouldn't say if the US has concluded that Russia is likely behind the collapse, or if it was even an intentional act.

Some context: The critical Nova Kakhovka dam is the largest reservoir in Ukraine in terms of volume and is the last of the cascade of six Soviet-era dams on 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 invaded its neighbor. 

The dam's collapse, which powers Ukraine’s Kakhovka hydro-electric power plant, could “very well have a devastating impact on Ukraine's energy security, and it will certainly have an impact on Ukraine's canal system,” Kirby said, prompting the US to reach out to Ukraine to provide humanitarian assistance. 

Still, Kirby declined to say what, if any, effect the United States thinks the dam collapse will have on Ukraine’s summer counter-offensive.

3:21 p.m. ET, June 6, 2023

US and Western officials see signs that Ukraine’s counteroffensive is beginning, senior NATO official says

From CNN's Natasha Bertrand, Alex Marquardt, Jim Sciutto and Jennifer Hansler

US and western officials see signs that Ukraine’s long-awaited counteroffensive against Russia is beginning and have noted a “substantial increase in fighting” in the east of the country over the last 48 hours as Ukrainian troops probe for weaknesses in Russian defensive lines, a senior NATO official said on Tuesday.

While preliminary attacks, also known as “shaping” operations, have been underway for at least two weeks, Ukrainian forces have in the last several days begun testing Russian positions with artillery strikes and ground attacks to find vulnerable areas they can break through, the NATO official and a senior European military intelligence official told CNN.

The collapse of a sprawling dam in Ukraine’s Russian-occupied Kherson region, which triggered a wave of evacuations on Tuesday as floods of water spilled from the Nova Kakhovka hydro-electric plant, could complicate some of Ukraine’s plans, officials told CNN.

The dam’s breach could now make it more difficult for Ukrainian troops to cross the Dnipro River and attack Russian positions there, said two western officials. And the dam’s collapse has already created a significant humanitarian challenge into which the Ukrainian government will need to address and funnel resources.

“Anything that may have been planned downstream from the dam probably has to be replanned,” a European ambassador in Washington said. “Ultimately, the water levels will recede, but most likely, the catastrophic flooding has impacted the bridges and roads in the area, so they may not be usable in the way as planned before.”

The US and the Western intelligence community are still examining who is responsible for the dam’s destruction, but officials are leaning toward Russia as the culprit, the official said.

More background: Over the last several days, analysts have seen some notable Ukrainian operations and probes in the southeastern region of Zaporizhzhia, between the southern city of Kherson and the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the NATO official said. Ukrainian forces are also conducting operations south of Donetsk city in eastern Ukraine, which appears to be a new effort, the western official said.

The counteroffensive is expected to be carried out on multiple fronts, a senior US military official said. The official added that “there are many moving parts to synchronize” before a major ground operation can be launched. The weather has also played a role and delayed Ukraine’s initial attacks on Russian defensive lines.

Read more here.

1:36 p.m. ET, June 6, 2023

US defense secretary draws parallels between World War II and Ukraine war in D-Day ceremony

From CNN's Joseph Ataman and Oren Liebermann

Thousands gathered by the beaches of Normandy in France on Tuesday to remember those who died fighting for freedom in World War II, ceremonies that had renewed meaning as speakers, including US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, pointed to parallels with Ukraine’s war against Russia.

Seventy-nine years ago, D-Day kicked off the liberation of Europe, spearheaded by Allied sea and airborne landings in Normandy, France.

The first step toward victory – and peace – in Europe, it came at great cost to American and Allied soldiers, some 10,000 of whom would lie dead, be wounded or reported missing on French soil on that first, fateful day.

The parallels with the war in Ukraine have appeared again and again in speeches and comments about the D-Day commemorations. Many have pointed to the same struggle for freedom against occupation that drove both the liberation of Europe and Kyiv’s fight against Russia’s invasion.

Austin, at the American War Cemetery off Omaha Beach, spoke of the war in Ukraine and the same desire – as was the case 79 years ago in Normandy – to seek a world “where those who speak tyranny and genocide will be cast out.”

“If the troops of the world’s democracies could risk their lives for freedom then, surely the citizens of the world’s democracies can risk our comfort for freedom now,” he said.

Read more here.

3:24 p.m. ET, June 6, 2023

More than 1,000 people evacuated from Kherson city and Ukrainian-held areas of region, local official says 

From CNN’s Olga Voitovych and Yulia Kesaieva in Kyiv

More than 1,000 people have been evacuated from the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson and other Ukrainian-held parts of the wider region following the collapse of the Nova Kakhovka dam, a local official said Tuesday on the Telegram messaging app.

Oleksandr Prokudin, the Ukrainian governor of the Kherson region, said that 1,364 people had been evacuated from flooded areas, including 1,221 people from the Ostriv district of the regional capital, as of Tuesday evening local time. 

The official also said that more than 1,000 houses in the Ukrainian-held parts of Kherson region “appear to be underwater."

Prokudin said he understood the settlements of Korsunka and Dnipriany on the east bank of the Dnipro river – occupied by Russia – were “fully flooded” and others —Krynky, Kozachi Laheri, Pishchanivka, Oleshky, Kardashynka, Hola Prystan and Stara Zburiivka – were “partially flooded”.

In an earlier Telegram post, Prokudin said that dozens of houses in the region had been flooded. 

“The water continues to come and flood the settlements of Kherson region. As of now, 71 houses are known to be flooded,” he said. “In the village of Tiahynka alone, 2 bridges and 33 houses are flooded. In Burhunka, 3 houses are under water. In Odradokamyanka, a bridge is flooded, making it difficult to get to the settlement. In the village of Kozatske, 30 houses are flooded.” 

More background: The critical Nova Kakhovka dam is the largest reservoir in Ukraine in terms of volume. It’s the last of the cascade of six Soviet-era dams on 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.

It is unclear what caused the dam to collapse, which came as Ukraine geared up for a widely anticipated counter-offensive. Both Ukrainian and Russian officials said the dam collapsed in an explosion and are blaming each other for it.

12:43 p.m. ET, June 6, 2023

Finland expels 9 Russian embassy employees identified as "intelligence officers"

From CNN’s Niamh Kennedy in London and Uliana Pavlova 

Finland expelled nine Russian Embassy employees on Tuesday after identifying them as “intelligence officers.”

The Finnish foreign ministry said in a tweet that it had “summoned the Chargé d'affaires of Russia who was notified of the expulsion."

“Moscow will give an appropriate response to Finland's decision to expel nine employees of the Russian embassy from Helsinki,” Russian state news outlet TASS reported later Tuesday, citing the Russian foreign ministry. 

12:18 p.m. ET, June 6, 2023

Town in Russian-occupied Kherson region "almost totally flooded," Kremlin-backed official says

From CNN’s Olga Voitovych in Kyiv and Jo Shelley in London

The town of Oleshky in the Russian-occupied part of Ukraine’s southern Kherson region is “almost totally flooded" following the collapse of the Nova Kakhovka dam, a Kremlin-backed official said on Telegram on Tuesday.

“The most difficult situation is now in Alyoshki [the Russian name for Oleshky]. The town is almost totally flooded,” Andrey Alekseenko, the Russian-backed head of the government of the Kherson region, said.

Alekseenko said that “special vehicles” were needed to evacuate people from Oleshky, and some of those were “being brought from Crimea.”

“Problems with communication also complicate the situation here,” he added.

Alekseenko – who posted a video of a coach driving down a flooded highway – said that more than 100 buses were being driven to “coastal areas” across the Russian-occupied parts of the Kherson region to help people flee the flooding. “Five thousand places for evacuees are being prepared in safe settlements,” he said.