The collapse of the Kakhovka dam in southern Ukraine was referred to as an act of “mass environmental destruction” by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. He also stated that the attack on such vital infrastructure would not change Ukraine’s plans to recapture territory from occupying Russian forces.
Zelenskyy stated on Tuesday that the dam was blown up in an effort to “use the flood as a weapon” to hinder Ukrainian forces. He described the explosion that destroyed the dam as a purposeful and erratic move by Russia.
Zelenskyy claimed Moscow had ruined the water supply in the Crimean peninsula because it was prepared to lose control of the Russian-annexed territory, according to his nightly address to the country.
“The fact that Russia deliberately destroyed the Kakhovka reservoir, which is critically important, in particular, for providing water to Crimea, indicates that the Russian occupiers have already realised that they will have to flee Crimea as well,” he said.
“We will still liberate all our land,” Zelenskyy said, adding that the blowing up of the dam would not avert a Russian defeat but would add to the post-war reparation costs that Moscow will have to pay to Ukraine one day.
On Tuesday, the Kremlin accused Ukraine of causing the dam to collapse, claiming that Kiev had devastated the area to draw attention away from the counteroffensive’s shaky start, which Moscow had already thwarted.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said his forces had thwarted the first three days of Ukraine’s counteroffensive in battles that had left thousands of Ukrainian soldiers dead or wounded. The decision to destroy the dam was to slow the attacking Russian forces, he said.
Both Moscow and Kyiv claimed that the dam had been destroyed, but neither side offered any proof.
In the middle of a conflict zone, the dam collapsed just as Ukraine was getting ready to launch its long-awaited counteroffensive.
Hundreds of thousands of people in Ukraine received electricity and drinking water from the dam before it was destroyed, according to Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford, who was reporting from the dam’s reservoir in the Zaporizhia area of Ukraine.
“The locals that we’ve spoken to here say … that the water level today has dropped anywhere between a metre and two metres, and we expect in the coming hours and days for the level to continue dropping and on that basis, one can only imagine the kind of devastating effect that it is having on affected areas south of the dam,” Stratford said.
The head of Ukraine’s hydroelectric power authority, Ihor Syrota, told the radio station Donbas Realii, which is funded by the United States, that flooding had caused waters to rise by 3.5 meters (11.5 feet) and that authorities there anticipate the flood waters to peak on Wednesday before starting to recede within three to four days.
Villages and towns surrounding the city of Kherson have already been buried by the flooding, and Russian officials have issued a warning that the major canal carrying water to the Crimean peninsula that Russia has occupied is receiving significantly less water.
According to Ukrainian authorities, 24 villages had been inundated and 17,000 people were being evacuated from Ukrainian-controlled area.
“Over 40,000 people are in danger of being flooded,” Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin said, adding that 25,000 more people should be evacuated in the most critical areas at risk on the Russian-occupied side of the Dnipro River.
The mayor of Nova Kakhovka, where the dam is located, Vladimir Leontyev, who was appointed by Moscow, claimed that the city was under water and that hundreds of residents had been evacuated.
At least 16,000 people have already lost their houses, according to the UN, and attempts are being made to offer clean water, money, and psychological and legal help to those impacted. Ferries were being used to transport residents of the Ukrainian-controlled side of the river to locations such as Mykolaiv and Odesa in the west.
Martin Griffiths, the UN’s Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, told the Security Council on Tuesday that it will take some time for the entire “magnitude of the catastrophe” to sink in.
The damage caused by the Kakhovka dam destruction in #Ukraine means that life will become intolerably harder for those already suffering from the conflict.
Our urgent humanitarian task is to continue to help them to survive, be safe and get a future.
My remarks at the #UNSC:
— Martin Griffiths (@UNReliefChief) June 6, 2023
“But it is already clear that it will have grave and far-reaching consequences for thousands of people in southern Ukraine – on both sides of the front line – through the loss of homes, food, safe water and livelihoods,” Griffiths said.
During an emergency UN Security Council meeting on Tuesday, Russia and Ukraine swapped accusations of being to fault for the catastrophe.
The Russian and Ukrainian ambassadors at the council meeting provided “completely different accounts of what’s happened” to the dam, according to James Bays, Al Jazeera’s diplomatic editor, who was reporting from the UN headquarters in New York.
According to Bays, the Russian envoy argued that Ukraine had previously threatened the dam, and Ukraine countered that since the dam was located on Russian-controlled territory, only a direct attack on it could have been successful.
“Those are the clear positions of the two sides and really what you need is someone to properly investigate which of these two completely different stories is true. I don’t think that is very likely to happen anytime soon,” Bays said, noting that the dam remains a military front line.
On Tuesday, the interior minister of Ukraine reported that two police officers had been hurt and that two places where people were being evacuated from the flood waters of the dam were being shelled by Russia.
Moscow would benefit in the short run, according to Ben Barry, a senior scholar at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, from floods caused by the dam.
“Bearing in mind Russia is on the strategic defensive and Ukraine on the strategic offensive, in the short term it’s an advantage to Russia, definitely,” Barry said.
“It’ll help the Russians until the water subsides because it makes it more difficult for Ukraine to do assault river crossings,” he said.
According to Maciej Matysiak, a security specialist at the Stratpoints Foundation and a former deputy chief of Polish military counter-intelligence, the flooding of the area will also make it impossible for heavier weapons like tanks to be used for at least a month.
“(This) creates a very good defending position for Russians who expect Ukrainian offensive activity,” Matysiak said.
Source: Al Jazeera