‘Russian Terrorists’: Civilians Evacuated as Major Ukraine Dam Blown Up

Ukraine accused Russia of blowing up a major dam up water from Kherson, unleashing a flood and prompting an evacuation. Meanwhile, Russia denies responsibility and says Ukraine sabotaged the reservoir themselves.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky decried “Russian terrorists” early Tuesday morning as she published drone footage of the aftermath of a blast at the Kakhovka hydroelectric power dam on the Russian-occupied Dnipro river.

Both Kyiv and Moscow accused the other of having been behind the blast, and each giving reasons why the other might wish to destroy the Soviet-era hydroelectric infrastructure. Ukraine claimed the sudden unleashing of the reservoir downstream, which necessitated the evacuation of villages as the water spread, was intended to slow the progress of their army crossing the Dnipro River, reports The Times.

Notwithstanding that, a spokesman for the Ukrainian military says the blowing of the dam — which has been held by Russia since last year — won’t prevent their army from advancing on Russian positions.

Ukrainian reports say Russia blew the dam by planting explosives inside. No fatalities are reported, but residents of bordering areas, including those in the city of Kherson, are said to be heading to higher ground.

People board an evacuation train at a railway station in Kherson, Ukraine, Tuesday, June 6, 2023. Ukraine on Tuesday accused Russian forces of blowing up a major dam and hydroelectric power station in a part of southern Ukraine that Russia controls, risking environmental disaster. (AP Photo/Nina Lyashonok)

Russia, for their part, accused Ukrainian forces of attacking the dam overnight with a rocket barrage in order to deprive Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine of drinking water. A Kremlin spokesman said the blast will have “grave consequences” for both local people and the local environment, and the country claims it has set up a criminal enquiry into the destruction of the dam.

Both sides agree dozens of settlements are at risk from flooding, and according to the Russian account at some villages the water level is already up ten meters. It will reportedly take three days for the water that was held behind the dam to flow out.

Ukraine say they are going to bring up the bombing with the United Nations and the International Criminal Court, as they believe the attack on the dam constituted a war crime. As expressed by the Associated Press, the waters of the reservoir — which are falling rapidly as it empties following the blast — are used to cool the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, Europe’s largest. The operating company says the situation there is presently “controllable” and that it has its own backup water reserve.

It is not yet possible to fact-check the allegations of Kyiv or Moscow. But international figures have moved to condemn Russia for blowing up the dam, with the European Union’s Charles Michel saying Moscow was guilty of a “war crime” for attacking the civilian infrastructure. The BBC cites lawyer Dr Mark Ellis, an international criminal law expert, who contrasts instances where it is permissible to bomb a dam within the confines of international treaties.

The broadcaster reports “no attacks on dams for which Russia has been held responsible can be justified” under the test of military necessity, but Ukraine bombing the Irpin dam last year was permissible, because it was necessary to use floodwater to prevent the Russian army advancing on the capital, Kyiv. As claimed by the Financial Times using an analysis of a “worst-case modelled flooding scenario”, the whole area of the “Ukrainian-claimed counter-offensive” to the South-West of Kherson will be underwater.

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