The massive Nova Kakhovka dam was destroyed in the early hours of June 6, releasing a tidal wave of flood water that quickly swamped towns and villages downstream in southern Ukraine and triggered evacuation orders by local authorities.
Both Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of bombing the Soviet-era dam in the Russian-controlled region of southern Ukraine. Within hours the water level had risen to the tops of downstream trees, according to reports on social media, and the water is expected to flood vast swathes of fields downstream. The city of Kherson, liberated by Ukrainian forces last September, also stands in the path of the flood waters.
Residents downstream from the Nova Kakhovka dam on the Dnipro River in Kherson were told to “do everything you can to save your life,” according to the head of Ukraine’s Kherson region military administration, CNN reports.
“The Russian Army has committed another act of terror. It has blown up the Kakhovka Hydro Power Plant [HPP]. The water will reach a critical level in five hours. Evacuation in the area of danger has started,” Oleksandr Prokudin, the Ukraine-appointed head of the Kherson region military administration, said on Telegram. The Kherson administration has already laid on evacuation buses.
“Overnight strikes on the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant destroyed gate valves, causing water to be spilled downstream uncontrollably,” Russian-installed mayor of Nova Kakhovka, Vladimir Leontiev, said on Telegram, after initially denying reports the dam had been blown up.
Numerous unverified videos circulating on social media depicted a series of powerful explosions near the dam and displayed water rushing through its remnants, eliciting shock from onlookers.
Constructed in 1956 as part of the Kakhovka HPP, the dam is 30 metres tall and stretches 3.2 km in length. The enormous reservoir of 18bn cubic metres of water in the dam – equal to the Great Salt Lake in the US state of Utah, according to Reuters – is a crucial source of water for the whole of the Crimean peninsula and the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (NPP), both under Russian control.
Ukraine's military claims that Russian forces intentionally detonated the dam. "The Kakhovka (dam) was blown up by the Russian occupying forces. The scale of the destruction, the speed and volumes of water and the likely areas of inundation are being clarified," the South command of Ukraine's Armed Forces stated on Tuesday, 6 June via their Facebook page, as reported by Reuters.
Russian news agencies said that the dam was destroyed due to shelling. A Russian-appointed official labelled the incident a terrorist attack, utilising Russian terminology to denote an assault by Ukraine.
Ukraine’s National Police urged people in affected villages to evacuate. Russian news agency Tass reports, citing emergency services, that 80 settlements may be affected by flooding. The police force named the villages of Mykolaivka, Olhivka, Lyovo, Tyaginka, Poniativka, Ivanovka, Tokarivka, Poniativka, Prydniprovske, Sadove and partly the city of Kherson – Korabel Island. “Units of the National Police and the State Emergency Service of the Kherson region were alerted to alert and evacuate the civilian population from potential flooding zones on the right bank of the Dnieper River” the police force said on Telegram, The Guardian reports.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy will hold an emergency meeting to discuss the dam this morning.
A Swedish computer simulation posted on social media shows the extent of flooding expected in southern Ukraine