A major dam in southern Ukraine collapsed on Tuesday, triggering floods in the region, and even endangering Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.
Drinking water supplies to both sides of the war have been impacted, while the flooding has forced thousands to evacuate.
Each side is blaming the other for what is already being called an environmental catastrophe.
Videos have circulated on social media showing the damage to the Nova Kakhovka dam and the destruction it has caused in the region.
“A multi-hundred foot chunk of the Nova Kakhovka dam is gone, the Kakhovka Reservoir is quickly emptying out into the Dnipro,” tweeted OSINTtechnical (@Osinttechnical), which shared an aerial view of the dam, recorded by a low-flying drone.
Kyiv has accused Russian forces of blowing up the Nova Kakhovka dam and hydroelectric power plant (HPP) on the Dnipro River, while Russian officials pointed blame at Ukrainian military strikes in the contested area.
It is unclear who is actually responsible, and neither side’s claims have been verified.
Russia has Called the Actions Sabotage
Moscow has suggested the damn was destroyed as part of Ukraine’s large-scale counteroffensive – which Russia is also claiming has already stalled – while the point of destroying the dam was also to deprive Crimea of drinking water.
Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian state media, “Here we can already say unequivocally that this is deliberate sabotage by the Ukrainian side,” and he added, “This sabotage has the potential to cause very serious consequences for tens of thousands of the region’s residents, environmental consequences and consequences of another nature that are yet to be established.”
Ukraine Labels Dam’s Destruction a Terrorist Act
The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense cast the destruction of the dam on Russia. In a post to social media, @DefenceU shared photos of flooded settlements and stated, “Nova Kakhovka, Kherson region. The russians are turning occupied territories of Ukraine into deserts, ruins, and flood zones. The world must join Ukraine in putting an end to russian terrorism.”
Commentators have noted that during the Second World War, less than two months after Nazi Germany launched its invasion of the Soviet Union, the Red Army blew up the Dnieper Hydroelectric Station Dam to slow the enemy’s advance.
There had been speculation that Moscow would consider blowing up the dam to slow any Ukrainian offensive. The flooding will certainly impact Kyiv’s ability to mount an attack to liberate Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014. Military experts have noted it could be difficult if not impossible for Ukrainian forces to cross the lower Dnipro River for the foreseeable future.
Neglect at Blame?
It is also being suggested on Tuesday that the dam had already been suffering from disrepair.
The Associated Press cited retired American scientist David Helms, who has been monitoring the reservoir since the start of the war, and he suggested that it remains unclear if the damage to the Nova Kakhovka dam was deliberate or if it was the result of neglect from Russian forces occupying the facility.
Regardless of who is to blame, it is already being seen as an environmental disaster – as some 150 metric tons of oil escaped from the dam’s machinery, while another 300 metric tons could still leak out. Currently, the situation at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, the largest in Europe, has been described as “controllable,” yet officials have warned that the damage to the dam “could have negative consequences.”
The U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been monitoring the situation, and it noted that the dam supplied the water required for the essential cooling systems.
“Absence of cooling water in the essential cooling water systems for an extended period of time would cause fuel melt and inoperability of the emergency diesel generators,” IAEA said in a statement, adding, “However, our current assessment is that there is no immediate risk to the safety of the plant.”
According to the Washington Post, the Nova Kakhovka dam was part of a Soviet-era hydroelectric power plant and had been in operation since the 1950s. It held about 18 cubic kilometers of water, which is roughly equal to the volume of Utah’s Great Salt Lake.
This is a developing story.
Author Experience and Expertise
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.
War in Ukraine