Ukraine Dam Collapse Causes Emergency 06/06 10:12
A major dam in southern Ukraine collapsed Tuesday, triggering floods,
endangering crops in the country's breadbasket and threatening drinking water
supplies as both sides in the war scrambled to evacuate residents and blamed
each other for the destruction.
KHERSON, Ukraine (AP) -- A major dam in southern Ukraine collapsed Tuesday,
triggering floods, endangering crops in the country's breadbasket and
threatening drinking water supplies as both sides in the war scrambled to
evacuate residents and blamed each other for the destruction.
Ukraine accused Russian forces of blowing up the Kakhovka dam and
hydroelectric power station on the Dnieper River in an area that Moscow has
controlled for over a year, while Russian officials blamed Ukrainian
bombardment in the contested area. It was not possible to verify the claims.
The environmental and social consequences quickly became clear as homes,
streets and businesses flooded downstream and emergency crews began
evacuations; officials monitored water for cooling systems at the Zaporizhzhia
nuclear plant; and authorities expressed concern about supplies of drinking
water to the south in Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014.
In the downstream city of Kherson, a woman who gave her name only as Tetyana
waded through thigh-deep water to reach her flooded house and rescue her dogs.
They were standing on any dry surface they could find but one pregnant dog was
missing. "It's a nightmare," she kept repeating, declining to give her full
Both Russian and Ukrainian authorities brought in trains and buses for
residents. About 22,000 people live in areas at risk of flooding in
Russian-controlled areas, while 16,000 live in the most critical zone in
Ukrainian-held territory, according to official tallies. Neither side reported
any deaths or injuries.
A satellite photo Tuesday morning by Planet Labs PBC analyzed by The
Associated Press showed a large portion of the dam's wall, more than 600 meters
(over 1,900 feet), missing.
The dam break added a stunning new dimension to Russia's war, 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 kilometers
(621 miles) of front line in the east and south.
It was not immediately clear whether either side benefits from the dam's
collapse, since both Russian-controlled and Ukrainian-held lands are at risk.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu charged that Ukraine destroyed the
dam to prevent potential Russian attacks in the Kherson region after what he
alleged was a failed Ukrainian counteroffensive in recent days. He claimed
Ukraine had lost 3,715 troops and 52 tanks since Sunday, and in a rare
acknowledgment of Russia's own losses, said 71 Russian troops were killed and
Ukraine, meanwhile, alleged Russia blew up the dam to hinder Kyiv's
counteroffensive, even though observers note that crossing the broad Dnieper
would be extremely challenging. Other sectors of the front line are more likely
avenues of attack, analysts say.
Nigel Gould-Davies, a senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the
International Institute for Strategic Studies, said the alleged Russian
destruction of the dam "betrays a lack of confidence, a profoundly defensive
measure, the lack of confidence in Russia's longer-term prospects" in the war.
Experts have previously said the dam was in disrepair, which could also have
led to the breach. David Helms, a retired American scientist who has monitored
the reservoir since the war began, said in an email that it wasn't clear if the
damage was deliberate or simple neglect from Russian forces occupying the
But Helms also noted a Russian history of attacking dams.
Underscoring the global repercussions, wheat prices jumped 3% after the
collapse. It's unclear whether the surge in wheat prices was due to a real
threat of floodwaters destroying crops. Ukraine and Russia are key global
suppliers of wheat, barley, sunflower oil and other food to Africa, the Middle
East and parts of Asia.
Authorities, experts and residents have expressed concern for months about
water flowing through -- and over -- the Kakhovka dam. After heavy rains and
snow melt last month, water levels rose beyond normal, flooding nearby
villages. Satellite images showed water washing over damaged sluice gates.
Amid official outrage, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy convened an
urgent meeting of the National Security Council. He alleged Russian forces set
off a blast inside the dam structure at 2:50 a.m. (2350 GMT Monday, 7:50 p.m.
EDT Monday) and said about 80 settlements were in danger. Zelenskyy said in
October that Russia had mined the dam and power plant.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called it "a deliberate act of sabotage by
the Ukrainian side ... aimed at cutting water supplies to Crimea."
White House officials were trying to assess potential impacts of the dam
collapse and were looking to see what humanitarian assistance can be provided
to Ukrainians who are being displaced, according to a U.S. official who spoke
on condition of anonymity and was not authorized to comment publicly.
Both sides warned of a looming environmental disaster. Ukraine's
Presidential Office said some 150 metric tons of oil escaped from the dam
machinery and that another 300 metric tons could still leak out.
Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukraine's President's Office, posted video
showing the flooded streets of Russian-occupied Nova Kakhovka, a city in the
Kherson region where about 45,000 people lived before the war.
Ukraine's Interior Ministry urged residents of 10 villages on the Dnieper's
right bank and parts of the city of Kherson to gather essential documents and
pets, turn off appliances, and leave, while cautioning against possible
The Russian-installed mayor of Nova Kakhovka, Vladimir Leontyev, said it was
being evacuated as water poured in.
Ukraine's nuclear operator Energoatom said via Telegram that the damage to
the dam "could have negative consequences" for the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power
Plant, which is Europe's biggest, but wrote that for now the situation is
The U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency said there was "no immediate
risk to the safety of the plant," which has been shut down for months but still
needs water for its cooling system. It said that IAEA staff on site have been
told the dam level is falling by 5 centimeters (2 inches) an hour. At that
rate, the supply from the reservoir should last a few days, it said.
The plant also has alternate sources of water, including a large pond than
can provide water "for some months," the statement said.
Ukrainian authorities have previously warned that the dam's failure could
unleash 18 million cubic meters (4.8 billion gallons) of water and flood
Kherson and dozens of other areas where thousands live.
The World Data Center for Geoinformatics and Sustainable Development, a
Ukrainian nongovernmental organization, estimated that nearly 100 villages and
towns would be flooded. It also reckoned that the water level would start
dropping only after 5-7 days.
Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to Zelenskyy, said that "a global
ecological disaster is playing out now, online, and thousands of animals and
ecosystems will be destroyed in the next few hours."
Video posted online showed floodwaters inundating a long roadway; another
showed a beaver scurrying for high ground.
The incident also drew international condemnation, including from German
Chancellor Olaf Scholz and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who said
the "outrageous act ... demonstrates once again the brutality of Russia's war
Ukraine controls five of the six dams along the Dnieper, which runs from its
northern border with Belarus down to the Black Sea and is crucial for the
country's drinking water and power supply.
Ukraine's state hydro power generating company said the dam's power station
"cannot be restored." Ukrhydroenergo also claimed Russia blew up the station
from inside the engine room.
Ukraine and Russia have previously accused each other of attacking the dam.