Ukraine and Russia blamed each other for the attack on the Russian-held facility, which came a day after U.S. officials said it appeared a Ukrainian counteroffensive had begun. Thousands of residents are evacuating under the threat of flooding.
A critical dam along the front line in southern Ukraine was destroyed on Tuesday, with videos showing cascades of water pouring through the breach, putting thousands of people downstream at risk.
As water levels rose south of the dam, residents in the town of Antonivka, about 40 miles downstream, describedhe-dams-destruction-could-divert-resources-from-both-sides-of-the-conflict, watching in horror as roiling floodwaters swept past carrying trees and debris from washed-out houses. Ukrainian emergency crews rushed to evacuate the most vulnerable on the western side of the river, while conservationists warned that a huge and long-lasting environmental disaster was unfolding.
It was more difficult to assess what was happening on the eastern bank of the river south of the dam, which is under Russian control.
It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the destruction of the Kakhovka dam and electric plant, which lies along the Dnipro River and is held by Russian forces. President Volodymyr Zelensky blamed “Russian terrorists,” and Ukrainian officials said Russian forces had caused an explosion at the facility. The Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, blamed the destruction on Ukrainian forces, calling it a “sabotage” attack.
The disaster came one day after American and Russian officials said east of the Dnipro in the Donetsk region. Although the dam is far from that fighting, the destruction could divert both sides’ attention and resources from the much-anticipated counteroffensive.
The dam holds back a body of water the size of the Great Salt Lake in Utah. That reservoir supplies water for drinking and agriculture. It also provides water to cool reactors and spent fuel at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, but the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, said there was “no immediate nuclear safety risk.” The group said, however, that it was closely monitoring the situation.
About 16,000 people are in the “critical zone” on the Ukrainian-controlled western bank of the Dnipro River in the Kherson region, according to Oleksandr Prokudin, the regional military administrator. Residents were being evacuated by bus and train, and so far no deaths had been reported.
Security of the dam, the second largest on the Dnipro, had been a continuing concern during the war, with both sides accusing the other of plotting to destroy it.
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Videos and images on social media appeared to show flooding already underway in communities downstream from the Kakhova dam, and streets filling with rising water. In Nova Kakhovka, the city under Russian control that lies immediately downstream of the dam, the Palace of Culture and administrative center were swamped.
In Mykolaiv, an emergency train collected people fleeing the rising waters in Kherson, about 40 miles to the east. Humanitarian groups were just starting to arrive to provide support for those forced from their homes by flooding.
Emergency crews were racing to southern Ukraine from Kyiv, the head of the state emergency service, Serhiy Kruk, said in a statement. Vehicles designed to be driven through floodwaters, generators, mobile water treatment plants, water trucks and other equipment were also on their way.
Marc Santora, Maria Varenikova and Anna Lukinova contributed reporting.