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Ukraine accuses Russia of destroying Kakhovka dam, evacuation orders issued as ‘ecological disaster’ warned

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Hundreds of thousands of residents in an area of southern Ukraine controlled by Moscow were forced to evacuate Tuesday after the Kakhovka dam and a hydroelectric power station were blown up in an attack Ukrainian forces are blaming on Russia.

Russian officials pointed the finger back at Ukraine, blaming the damage on Ukrainian military strikes in the area. Officials on both sides of the war ordered the evacuation, citing an “ecological disaster” due to the threat of massive flooding along the Dnipro River, according to The Associated Press.

Ukrainian authorities previously stated that the dam’s failure could unleash 18 million cubic meters (4.8 billion gallons) of water, warning that it would flood Kherson and dozens of other heavily-populated areas.

The World Data Center for Geoinformatics and Sustainable Development, a Ukrainian nongovernmental organization, estimated that nearly 100 villages and towns would be flooded, adding that it would take five to seven days for water levels to start dropping.

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A satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows the Kakhovka dam in southern Ukraine on May 28, 2023, before it was damaged in an attack Ukraine is attributing to Russia. (Satellite image ©2023 Maxar Technologies)

Overview of the Kakhovka dam

A satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows damage to the Kakhovka dam in southern Ukraine following an attack. (Satellite image ©2023 Maxar Technologies)

The Ukrainian Interior Ministry called for residents of 10 villages on the Dnipro’s right bank and parts of the city of Kherson downriver to gather essential documents and pets, turn off appliances, and leave, while cautioning against possible disinformation.

Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said that “a global ecological disaster is playing out now, online, and thousands of animals and ecosystems will be destroyed in the next few hours.”

Zelenskyy called an emergency meeting to address the crisis, according to Ukrainian officials.

Five of the six dams along the Dnipro, which runs from Ukraine’s northern border with Belarus down to the Black Sea, are controlled by Ukraine and are crucial for the entire country’s drinking water and power supply.

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Damaged Kakhovka dam in southern Ukraine

This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows the Kakhovka dam in southern Ukraine on May 28, 2023, before it was damaged in an attack. (Satellite image ©2023 Maxar Technologies)

Overview of Kakhovka dam after attack

A satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows an overview of the Kakhovka dam in southern Ukraine after it was damaged in an attack Ukraine is blaming on Russia. (Satellite image ©2023 Maxar Technologies)

In addition to the flooding, the damage at the dam could affect the supply of drinking water to Crimea and deplete water levels upstream that help cool the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, which is Europe’s largest facility.

The U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency wrote on Twitter that there was “no immediate nuclear safety risk” at the hydroelectric facility, but the plant was being monitored.

Ukraine’s nuclear operator Energoatom echoed similar sentiments in a Telegram statement, saying that the situation is “controllable” for now, but water levels necessary “for the plant to feed the turbine condensers and ZNPP safety systems” were “rapidly decreasing.”

“Currently the station cooling pond is full: as of 8 a.m., the water level is at 16.6 meters, and this is enough for the needs of the station,” the company said.

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Floodwaters rush through buildings in southern Ukraine

Ukraine on Tuesday accused Russian forces of blowing up the major dam and hydroelectric power station in a part of southern Ukraine that Russia controls, sending water gushing from the breached facility and risking massive flooding. (Ukrainian Presidential Office via AP)

Vladimir Leontyev, mayor of Russian-occupied Nova Kakhovka, said the city was being evacuated as floodwaters approached.

Leontyev said Tuesday that numerous strikes on the Kakhovka hydroelectric plant destroyed its valves beyond repair, causing water from the Kakhovka reservoir to “uncontrollably flow downstream.”

Ukraine’s state hydropower generating company Ukrhydroenergo also said the station was irreparably damaged, claiming that Russia blew it up from inside the engine room.

People evacuate after Kakhovka dam damaged

In this image taken from video released by the Ukrainian Presidential Office, water runs through a breakthrough in the Kakhovka dam in Ukraine. (Ukrainian Presidential Office via AP)

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Ukraine and Russia have previously accused each other of targeting the dam with attacks.

Last October, Zelenskyy claimed Russian forces would destroy the dam in order to cause a flood.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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