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Nova Kakhovka, a city downstream from the dam. Telegram
Kakhovka dam

World leaders condemn dam attack in Ukraine as flooding and evacuations continue

Officials raced to check cooling systems at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station.

LAST UPDATE | 6 Jun 2023

UKRAINE ACCUSED RUSSIAN forces of blowing up the Kakhovka dam and hydroelectric power station on the Dnieper River, triggering floods, endangering Europe’s largest nuclear power plant and threatening drinking water supplies.

Russian officials blamed Ukrainian military strikes in the contested area, however AFP was unable verify either side’s claims.

The potentially far-reaching environmental and social consequences of the disaster quickly became clear as homes, streets and businesses flooded downstream and emergency crews began evacuations.

Officials raced to check cooling systems at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station and authorities expressed concern about supplies of drinking water to the south in Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told the Kyiv Independent today that the destruction of the dam will not “prevent the liberation of Russia-occupied territories”.

The United States “cannot say conclusively what happened at this point,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters, adding that there will likely be “many deaths”.

Kirby said “significant” damage had been inflicted, but he was careful to stress that Washington is still studying the incident before identifying the perpetrator.

The United States hasn’t “come to a final conclusion,” he said. “We’re still trying to gather information and talk to the Ukrainians.”

Asked if attacking the dam would constitute a war crime, Kirby said “it’s very clear that the deliberate destruction of civilian infrastructure is not allowed by the laws of war.”

President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said today that “Russia will have to pay for the war crimes committed in Ukraine.”

Von der Leyen joined the wave of condemnation, with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres saying that the destruction of the dam was “another devastating consequence” of Russia’s invasion of its neighbor.

“Today’s tragedy is yet another example of the horrific price of war on people,” Guterres told reporters in New York, adding that the UN “has no access to independent information on the circumstances that led to the destruction.”

The UN warned that the environmental and humanitarian consequences of the attack were likely to be severe.

“We are gravely concerned about the destruction of the Kakhovka Dam, … and the severe humanitarian impact on hundreds of thousands of people on both sides of the front line,” the UN humanitarian agency OCHA said.

Pointing to reports from Ukrainian authorities that nearly 40 towns and villages were fully or partially flooded, the agency highlighted that “thousands have lost their homes overnight”, while thousands more have lost access to water, food and basic services.

“The impact is also expected to be severe in the Russian-controlled areas,” it warned.

The UN’s humanitarian agency, OCHA, cautioned, “flooding and fast-moving water can move mines and explosive ordnance to new areas which previously had been assessed as safe, thus putting more people in danger”.

OCHA said emergency humanitarian response efforts were underway to provide urgent assistance to more than 16,000 people, including water supplies.

Today’s dam break adds a new dimension to Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine, now in its 16th month.

Ukrainian forces were widely seen to be moving forward with a long-anticipated counteroffensive in patches along more than 1,000 kilometres of frontline in the east and south of Ukraine.

It was not immediately clear whether either side benefits from the damage to the dam, since both Russian-controlled and Ukrainian-held lands are at risk of flooding.

The damage could hinder Ukraine’s counteroffensive in the south and distract its government, while at the same time Russia depends on the dam to supply water to Crimea.

People in the city of Kherson, the largest population centre nearby, headed for higher ground as water, which had been held back by the dam and a hydroelectric plant, rose in the Dnipro River.

The city was occupied by Russian troops from March to November last year, until it was liberated by Ukraine. It has since come under heavy shelling.

“We spent nine months under occupation, and now we have been flooded by the bloody occupiers,” 52-year-old Iryna told AFP.

Another woman said:

“There is shooting, now there is flooding”.

“Everything is going to die here,” added Sergiy as water from the dam poured downstream into Kherson.

Ukrainian authorities said 17,000 people were being evacuated and a total of 24 villages had been flooded.

“Over 40,000 people are in danger of being flooded,” Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin said, adding that 25,000 more people should be evacuated on the Russian-occupied side of the Dnipro River.

Patricia Lewis, director of the International Security Programme at the Chatham House think tank in London, said apportioning blame is difficult but “there are all sorts of reasons why Russia would do this.”

“There were reports (last autumn) of Russians having mined the reservoir. The question we should pose is why the Ukrainians would do this to themselves, given this is Ukrainian territory,” she said.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that he utterly condemned the attack on the dam and that it “shows a reckless indifference to human suffering and environmental consequences”.

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin shared a Twitter post from EU officials blaming the attack on Russia and stated:

“The intentional targeting of civilian objects, including critical infrastructure, is a war crime. Ireland is working with EU and international partners to ensure those responsible are held to account. We will continue to stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes.”

Experts said previously the dam structure was suffering from disrepair.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he convened an urgent meeting of the National Security Council.

He alleged that Russian forces set off a blast inside the dam structure at 2.50am (11.50pm GMT yesterday) and said some 80 settlements were in danger.

But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called it “a deliberate act of sabotage by the Ukrainian side … aimed at cutting water supplies to Crimea”.


Ukraine’s Presidential Office said some 150 metric tonnes of oil escaped from the dam machinery and another 300 tonnes could still leak out.

The Ukrainian Interior Ministry called for residents of 10 villages on the Dnieper’s right bank and parts of Kherson downriver to gather essential documents and pets, turn off appliances and leave – while cautioning against possible disinformation.

The Russian-installed mayor of occupied Nova Kakhovka, Vladimir Leontyev, said it was being evacuated as water poured into the city.

Ukraine’s nuclear operator Energoatom said in a Telegram statement that the damage to the dam “could have negative consequences” for the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant but said that, for now, the situation is “controllable”.

The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a statement there was “no immediate risk to the safety of the plant”, which requires water for its cooling system.

It said IAEA staff on site have been told the dam level is falling by five centimetres an hour.

At that rate, the supply from the reservoir should last a few days, it said.

With reporting from PA and Jamie McCarron

 – © AFP 2023

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