In southern Ukraine, a major dam wall collapsed after an explosion on Tuesday, prompting officials from both sides of the ongoing war to order resident evacuations and warnings of potential ecological damage. As the fallout could be far-reaching, flooding homes, streets, and businesses downstream, depleting water levels upstream to cool Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, and draining drinking water supplies in Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed, the situation presents significant consequences. The dam break is a new dimension in Russia’s ongoing war with Ukraine, which is currently in its 16th month. Ukrainian forces were seen moving forward with a long-anticipated counteroffensive, covering over 621 miles of the frontline in the east and south of Ukraine.
The explosion’s cause remains unclear, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy convened an emergency meeting of the National Security Council. Ukrainian authorities claimed Russian forces blew up the dam structure, putting 80 settlements in danger, while Russian officials accused Ukrainian military strikes of causing the damage.
The dam’s failure could result in 18 million cubic meters of water flooding dozens of areas and potentially causing a global ecological disaster. Ukrainian authorities have previously warned of the dam’s failure’s potential impact and estimated that nearly 100 towns and villages would be flooded. While both sides are at risk of flooding, the dam’s damage could hinder Ukraine’s counteroffensive in the south. Simultaneously, Russia depends on the dam to supply water to the illegally annexed Crimea region in 2014.
Ukraine controls five of the six dams along the Dnipro river, which runs from its northern border with Belarus down to the Black Sea and is crucial for the entire country’s drinking water and power supply. The head of the Kherson Regional Military Administration, Oleksandr Prokudin, warned that the Russian army committed another act of terror and water would reach critical levels within five hours.
The station cannot be restored, writes the state hydro-power generating company Ukrhydroenergo in a statement, and Russia blew up the station from inside the engine room, it claims. The Russian-appointed mayor, Leontyev, claims that many Ukrainian strikes on the Kakhovka hydroelectric plant destroyed its valves, causing uncontrollable downstream water levels.
Both Ukraine and Russia have previously accused each other of targeting the dam with attacks, and last October, Zelenskyy predicted that Russia would destroy the dam to cause flooding. Concerns over water flows through and over the Kakhovka dam have long been issues expressed by authorities, experts, and residents. In February, water levels were so low that many feared a meltdown at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, whose cooling systems were supplied with water from the Kakhovka reservoir held by the dam. By mid-May, after heavy rains and snowmelt, water levels rose beyond normal levels, flooding surrounding villages.