IAN BIRRELL: Mass evacuations in Ukraine as Russia ‘blows up dam’
Shortly after 2 a.m., residents of Nova Kakhovka were awakened by loud explosions and then strange rushing noises.
“I’ve never heard anything like it,” one texted a social media group. “That’s water, but why is it so audible?” asked another.
The reason became clear as dawn broke over the swirling Dnipro River that cuts Ukraine in half: the hydroelectric dam for one of Europe’s largest reservoirs had blown up.
This was unleashing a new kind of terror against Ukrainians after 16 months of atrocities – and the consequences of what was likely an attempt by Vladimir Putin to sabotage a long overdue counter-offensive could be catastrophic.
I have stood on the banks of the Kakhovka Reservoir upstream of the destroyed dam, looking out at a expanse of water so large that in some places the other side cannot be seen. No wonder the locals often refer to it as a sea.
This Soviet-era reservoir holds about 18 cubic kilometers of water. It is more than twice the size of Loch Ness – Britain’s largest inland waterway – holding more water than all the lochs in England and Wales combined along its 27 miles.
The reason became clear as dawn broke over the swirling Dnipro River that cuts Ukraine in half: the hydroelectric dam for one of Europe’s largest reservoirs had blown up
This Soviet-era reservoir holds about 18 cubic kilometers of water. It is more than twice the size of Loch Ness – Britain’s largest inland waterway – holding more water than all the lochs in England and Wales combined along its 27 miles
And its waters were filled to record levels. The attack threatens at least 80 Ukrainian settlements — including the city of Kherson, which was liberated from Russia in November — and sabotages the power supplies for three million people and the cooling systems of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.
Fortunately, experts said there was no immediate danger from the Zaporizhzhia factory, which is currently occupied by the Russians. Five of the six reactors have been shut down since last year, while the sixth relies on water from a pond.
Yet thousands of lives have already been destroyed by the breach – as evidenced by the heartbreaking footage of weary refugees grabbing whatever possessions they could salvage as the coffee-colored water levels rose around their homes. And the ecological damage can last for decades.
An aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky described the dam explosion as “ecocide.
” At least 150 tons of oil were swept into the flood, while mines laid by both sides in the war were sucked up from the banks by the gushing current. Many exploded – but others will turn up intact in fields, gardens, streets and beaches downstream.
A leading Ukrainian scientist predicted that about 100 square kilometers of land would be flooded, causing long-term damage to flora and fauna in one of Europe’s most fertile regions from silt and water pollution. The blaming game over the breach started immediately yesterday. Blaming each other, both Kiev and Moscow launched an investigation into the attack on the 100-foot-tall dam, which was completed in 1956 and feeds a crucial network of canals that carry water to Crimea.
The attack threatens at least 80 Ukrainian settlements – including the city of Kherson liberated from Russia in November – and sabotages the power supply for three million people and the cooling systems of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.
The House of Culture on a flooded street in Nova Kakhovka after the nearby dam burst
British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly called the explosions “an abhorrent act” and suggested they constituted a war crime – not least because they occurred a day after a long-anticipated Ukrainian counter-offensive was reportedly launched.
Rishi Sunak said last night that if the breach was deliberate, it would be “the biggest attack on civilian infrastructure in Ukraine since the war began.” “Attacks against civilian infrastructure are horrific and wrong,” he said.
A defense minister in Kiev claimed on Monday that Ukraine had made progress around Bakhmut, in the eastern Donbas region. There have also been at least two incursions across the border by Russian anti-Putin forces.
Still, the attack on the dam will not have surprised Ukraine’s military planners. President Zelensky — whose home city of Kryvyi Rih was one of the areas hit by water shortages — warned last October that Russia had attached explosives to the building.
Security officials in Kiev said yesterday that ammunition was detonated remotely, blaming a motorized division in the area. The operation created a ‘moat of defence’ that could slow the speed of any advance, aided by heavy Russian fortifications. British defense expert Michael Clarke, formerly of military think tank RUSI, said there is strong evidence that Moscow is responsible.
Local resident Tetiana holds her pets, Tsatsa and Chunya, as she stands in her home that was flooded after the Kakhovka Dam was blown up
A leading Ukrainian scientist predicted that about 100 square kilometers of land would be flooded, causing long-term damage to flora and fauna in one of Europe’s most fertile areas through silt and water pollution
“This action supports Russia’s objectives much more strongly than Ukraine’s,” he said. So it’s very hard to believe that Ukraine would have done this, even if it could. Don’t forget the explosion was on the Russian side of the dam.’
The reaction of Putin’s local henchmen was one of confusion. They initially denied there were any blasts, then said the dam gave way due to previous damage, before boasting about submerging enemy soldiers and eventually blaming Ukraine for shelling. The Kremlin’s denials were undermined by Yegor Guzenko, a Russian blogger, who claimed to have predicted an attack.
“How many times have I said this dam would one day be blown up?
” he said. “We can blow up all the dams on Dnipro. It will only benefit us.’ It is not the first time that Russia has carried out such actions. In August 1941, retreating troops blew up a dam feeding Europe’s most powerful hydroelectric power plant to thwart the Nazis.
So is Putin again imitating Stalin with his destructive acts in Ukraine?