Hundreds of thousands of residents of a Moscow-controlled area in southern Ukraine were forced to evacuate on Tuesday after the Kakhovka Dam and a hydroelectric power station were blown up in an attack Ukrainian forces blame Russia.
Russian officials pointed the finger at Ukraine, blaming Ukrainian military strikes in the region for the damage. Officials from both warring factions 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 said the dam’s failure could release 18 million cubic meters (4.8 billion gallons) of water and warned it would flood Kherson and dozens of other heavily populated areas.
The World Data Center for Geospatial and Sustainable Development, a Ukrainian non-governmental organization, estimated that nearly 100 villages and towns would be flooded, adding that it would take five to seven days for the water levels to start falling.
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Ukraine’s Interior Ministry urged residents of ten villages on the right bank of the Dnipro and parts of the city of Kherson downstream to collect important documents and pets, turn off devices and leave, while warning of possible disinformation.
Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said: “Now a global ecological catastrophe is unfolding online, and in the next few hours thousands of animals and ecosystems will be destroyed.”
According to Ukrainian officials, Zelenskyy called an emergency meeting to address the crisis.
Five of the six dams along the Dnipro River, which runs from Ukraine’s northern border with Belarus to the Black Sea, are under Ukraine’s control and are vital to the entire country’s drinking water and electricity supply.
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In addition to the flooding, damage to the dam could affect Crimea’s drinking water supply and reduce the water level upstream that helps cool the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest facility.
The United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency wrote on Twitter that there was “no immediate nuclear safety risk” at the hydroelectric plant, but that the plant was being monitored.
Ukrainian nuclear operator Energoatom reiterated similar views in a Telegram statement, saying that the situation is “manageable” for the time being, but the water level, which “allows the power plant to feed the turbine condensers and ZNPP safety systems”, is “quickly decreasing”.
“Currently, the station’s cooling basin is full: at 8 a.m., the water level is 16.6 meters, which is enough for the station’s needs,” the company said.
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Vladimir Leontiev, mayor of Russian-held Nova Kakhovka, said the city was being evacuated as floodwaters approached.
Leontyev said on Tuesday that numerous attacks on the Kakhovka hydroelectric power station had irreparably destroyed its valves, causing water from the Kakhovka reservoir to “flow uncontrollably downstream”.
Also, Ukraine’s state-owned hydroelectric company Ukrhydroenergo said the station was damaged beyond repair and claimed Russia blew it up from the engine room.
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Ukraine and Russia have previously accused each other of targeting the dam.
Last October, Zelenskyy claimed Russian forces were destroying the dam to trigger a flood.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.