Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called the Kakhovka dam failure in southern Ukraine an act of “massive environmental destruction” and changed Ukraine’s plans to retake territory from Russian military occupation by attacking such critical infrastructure. Said it wouldn’t.
President Zelensky said on Tuesday that the explosion that destroyed the dam was a deliberate and disorderly act by Russia, saying the dam was blown up with the aim of “weaponizing flood waters” to thwart Ukrainian forces.
In an evening address to the nation, President Zelensky said Russia was willing to lose control of Russia-annexed Crimea, thus destroying the region’s clean water supply.
“The fact that Russia deliberately destroyed the Kakhovka Reservoir, which is of great importance in supplying water to Crimea in particular, shows that the Russian occupiers already know that they must flee Crimea as well. It shows,” he said.
“We will still liberate all our land,” Zelensky said, adding that while the dam bombing would not avert Russia’s defeat, it would eventually increase the post-war reparations that Russia would have to pay to Ukraine. added.
The Kremlin on Tuesday blamed Ukraine for the collapse of the dam and said Kiev had destroyed the site to divert attention from the faltering launch of a counterattack that Moscow had already slowed.
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said Russian forces had held off the first three days of Ukrainian counterattacks in a battle that killed and wounded thousands of Ukrainian soldiers. He said the decision to destroy the dam was to delay a Russian attack.
Neither Moscow nor Kiev provided evidence for their claims about the destruction of the dam.
As Ukraine prepares for a long-awaited counteroffensive, a dam burst in the heart of the conflict has wrought another humanitarian disaster.
‘Significant and far-reaching impact’
Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford, reporting from the dam’s reservoir in Ukraine’s Zaporizhia region, said the dam provided hundreds of thousands of people with electricity and drinking water before it was destroyed.
“The locals we spoke to here said the water level dropped between one and two meters today, and they expect it to continue to drop in the next few hours and days. , and on that basis, there’s only one thing that can be done: ‘Imagine what a devastating effect it’s having on the affected area south of the dam,’ Stratford said.
The head of the Ukrainian Hydropower Authority, Ihor Sirota, told US-funded radio station Donbass Realyi that floods had raised water levels by 3.5 meters (11.5 feet), and Ukrainian officials said the floods had reached their climax on Wednesday. said he believed the water level would rise after that. Within 3-4 days it will begin to fall.
The floods have already submerged villages and towns around the city of Kherson, and Russian officials have warned that the main canal that supplies water to Russia’s annexed Crimea has been greatly reduced.
Ukrainian authorities said 17,000 people had been evacuated from Ukrainian-controlled areas and a total of 24 villages were flooded.
Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin said “more than 40,000 people are at risk of being submerged”, and another 25,000 in the most important areas at risk for the Russian occupation side of the Dnipro River. He added that they should evacuate.
Vladimir Leontiev, the mayor of Nova Kakhovka, where the dam is located, said the city was submerged and hundreds of people were evacuated.
At least 16,000 people have already been left homeless, the United Nations said, and efforts are underway to provide clean water, financial, legal and moral support to those affected. The Ukrainian-controlled riverside residents were evacuated by ferry to cities such as Mykolaiv and Odessa to the west.
UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths told the Security Council on Tuesday that the completeness of the “scale of the catastrophe” will be fully recognized for the first time in the next few days.
Damage caused by destruction of Kakhovka Dam #Ukraine It means that the lives of those already afflicted by conflict will become unbearably difficult.
Our urgent humanitarian challenge is to continue to help them survive, be safe and have a future.
my statement in #UNSC:
— Martin Griffiths (@UNReliefChief) June 6, 2023
“However, it is already clear that it will have significant and far-reaching consequences for thousands of people in southern Ukraine on both sides of the front line through loss of homes, food, safe water and livelihoods,” said Griffiths. .
Russia and Ukraine exchanged responsibility for the disaster at an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on Tuesday.
Al Jazeera’s foreign affairs editor James Bayes, speaking from the UN headquarters in New York, said Russian and Ukrainian ambassadors who attended the council meeting gave “completely different accounts of what happened” at the dam. .
According to Bayes, the Russian ambassador claimed that there had been previous threats to the dam from Ukraine, and the Ukrainian side said the dam was located within Russian military-controlled territory, and that the dam was destroyed by mining. He argued that there was only one, and that destruction was impossible. Attack from a distance.
“These are clear positions on both sides, and what we really need is someone to properly investigate which of these two very different stories is true. said, pointing out that the dam is still a military front.
Ukraine’s interior minister said on Tuesday that two police officers were injured after Russian artillery shelled an area where people were fleeing a flooded dam.
Ben Barry, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said flooding from the dam would benefit Moscow in the short term.
“Keeping in mind that Russia is on strategic defense and Ukraine is on strategic offense, it definitely favors Russia in the short term,” Barry said.
“It will help Russia until the water recedes, as it will make it more difficult for Ukraine to assault the river,” he said.
Machezi Matysiak, a security expert at the Stratopoints Foundation and former deputy head of the Polish military’s counterintelligence department, said floods in the area would render tanks and other heavy weapons unusable for at least a month. .
“[This]will create a very good defensive position for the Russians, who expect Ukrainian offensive operations,” Mattisiak said.