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Ukraine dam disaster may not have been caused by Russian attacks

4 min read

Ukraine: Footage from the destruction at Kakhovka dam

The destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam and hydroelectric power plant may have been the result of “poor maintenance” by the Russian-installed authorities and shellings sustained during the past months of conflict, it has been claimed. More than 24 hours after the Ukrainian dam was destroyed, no side of the conflict claimed responsibility for the attack. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused “Russian terrorists” of the action, while Moscow denied any involvement in it. While some countries have backed Ukraine’s claim Russians were behind the dam breach, the US national security council spokesperson John Kirby said Washington “cannot say conclusively” who was responsible for the disaster.

Speaking from Ukraine on Tuesday, UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly also didn’t directly accuse Russia of the disaster, but said: “I’ve heard reports of the explosion on the dam and the risk of flooding. It’s too early to make any kind of meaningful assessment of the details.

“But it’s worth remembering that the only reason this is an issue at all is because of Russia’s unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine.”

BBC journalist Vitaly Shevchenko said it may be true neither parts actively attempted to destroy the dam, as they are now both suffering consequences from the flooding in the Kherson region.

Appearing on the Ukrainecast, he argued that while the Ukrainian Government is dealing with a major catastrophe and its military strategy may have been hit by the destruction of the dam, Russia is also being impacted by the catastrophe.

He said: “It’s true that the town that seems to have borne the brunt of the damage is actually Russian-controlled Nova Kakhovka, this is where we saw swans swimming about down the street.

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“It appears that Russians are experiencing extra difficulties because of this, and Ukrainians are saying, ‘Look, if this is something done by Russia, you have made it more difficult for our troops to move, you have caused tremendous difficulties for tens of thousands of people who now need to be evacuated and are facing a possible shortage of water as well’.”

The disaster also has the potential to disrupt the water supply to Crimea, annexed by Russia in February 2014.

The dam, the journalist added, may have just given in following months of fighting taking place in the area, invaded by Russian troops shortly after the beginning of the conflict in February 2022.

He said: “There is also speculation that, because this dam had sustained significant damage over months of fighting and shelling – it was bombed by Ukrainians as well earlier – because of poor maintenance, it could have just collapsed.”

Experts had sounded alarm bells in May, after water levels in the dam reached a record high.

Two gates at the reservoir were reportedly left open by Russians, controlling the area, which prompted the level of water to drop at the start of the winter, but they didn’t seem to give the dam enough respite following the spring rains.

In early May, water levels reportedly peaked at 17.5m, with water starting to overtop the dam.

Mr Shevchenko ruled out Ukraine could carry out a similar attack given it would bring devastation to its own land and the damage is now costing Kyiv huge amounts of resources and time.

Kyiv predicted on Wednesday some 42,000 people are at risk from flooding on both sides of the Dnipro River.

Mr Zelensky said on Wednesday morning “hundreds of thousands of people have been left without normal access to drinking water”, adding his government’s top priorities were the evacuation of people and providing drinking water.

The governor of Ukraine’s Kherson region, Oleksandr Prokudin, said around 1,457 people were evacuated overnight.

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Speaking about the right bank of the Dnipro River, still controlled by Ukraine, the official added 1,582 houses have been flooded.

The Russian-imposed mayor in the town of Nova Kakhovka, Vladimir Leontiev, said seven people were missing and up to 100 were still trapped.

He went on to claim a Ukrainian drone struck during evacuation efforts. Kyiv had also claimed Russian were attacking the region on Tuesday as people were being supported to leave the areas interested by the flooding.

The breach of the dam is set to have major consequences also on the environment, with the death and displacement of animals as well as pollution of the area among the top concerns.

Andriy Yermak, head of the office of the Ukrainian presidency, shared on Twitter a video thousands of fish dying in muddy waters, adding: “Man-made ecocide carried out by Russia.”

Ukraine’s Deputy Foreign Minister Andrij Melnyk called the Nova Kakhovka dam catastrophe “the worst environmental disaster in Europe since Chernobyl”, Politico reported.

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