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Explosions at a major hydroelectric plant in eastern Ukraine have unleashed flooding across the war-torn region, threatening the lives of civilians, officials in Kyiv said early Tuesday.
In a statement posted Tuesday morning, Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command said “Russian occupation troops blew up the dam” at Nova Kakhovka, in the Kherson region. “The scale of destruction, speed and amount of water, and likely areas of flooding are being determined.”
Blaming “Russian terrorists” for the blasts, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Twitter that “the destruction of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant dam only confirms for the whole world that they must be expelled from every corner of Ukrainian land.” He added that “all services are working,” and said he had convened his National Security and Defense Council.
The operator of the plant, state-owned Ukrhydroenergo, confirmed in a statement that “as a result of blasts in the machine hall, the Kakhovka hydroelectric power station is completely destroyed. It is not recoverable.”
According to the firm, the loss of water from the reservoir is also a new threat to Ukraine’s Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, where there have been repeated warnings that fighting could trigger a major catastrophe.
“Water from the Kakhovka reservoir is necessary for the power station’s turbines and safety systems,” Ukrhydroenergo said. “The stationary cooler pond is currently filled. The Ukrainian staff of the nuclear power station are monitoring all indicators.”
The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed its “experts at Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant are closely monitoring the situation.” But the agency assured that there is “no immediate nuclear safety risk at the plant.”
Last November, when Kyiv’s troops launched their last major counteroffensive, Russian forces blew up the sluice gates at the Nova Kakhovka dam in an apparent effort to slow their advance.
“Just looking at the situation it seems Russia would have more reasons to blow up the dam as Ukrainians are gearing up for and have already started their counteroffensive,” Sergey Radchenko, professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, told POLITICO. “It will certainly make it more difficult for the Ukrainians to cross the river and it will complicate the situation as they’ll have to expend resources to evacuate citizens within a very limited amount of time — just days or even hours.”
In a message posted on Telegram, the head of the Kherson region, Oleksandr Prokudin, said that as a result of the explosions, “water will reach a critical level in 5 hours” and that residents in nearby areas would be forced to leave their homes. “Around 16,000 people on Kherson’s right bank are in the critical zone,” he said, adding that residents would be evacuated by bus.
European Council President Charles Michel said the blasts at the dam could amount to a war crime.
“The destruction of civilian infrastructure clearly qualifies as a war crime — and we will hold Russia and its proxies accountable,” Michel tweeted.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Russia is “inflicting probably Europe’s largest technological disaster in decades and putting thousands of civilians at risk,” adding it could constitute a “heinous war crime.”
The Russian-installed mayor of Novaya Kakhovka, Vladimir Leontiev, denied allegations the dam had been sabotaged by the Kremlin’s forces and claimed Ukraine was responsible for the damage, according to Russian state media. He did not provide any evidence for his claims.
“Terrorists don’t stop unless they are stopped,” said Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis. “They cause huge catastrophes without regret.”
The Soviet-era Nova Kakhovka dam bridges Ukraine’s Dnieper River, holding back as much as 18 cubic kilometers of water — equivalent to Utah’s Great Salt Lake.
The news of the dam blasts came just hours after Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said on Monday that Kyiv’s troops are “shifting to offensive actions” as part of growing anticipation the country will launch a major effort to retake occupied territory in the east.
This is a developing story.