Mass evacuations as ‘Russia blows up dam’

Published by The Daily Mail (7th June, 2023)

Shortly after two o’clock in the morning, residents in Nova Kakhovka woke to loud explosions and then strange rushing sounds. ‘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 slashes Ukraine down the middle: the hydro-electric dam for one of Europe’s biggest reservoirs had been blown up.

This was the unleashing of a new type of terror for Ukrainians after 16 months of atrocities – and the consequences of what seems most likely to have been a bid by Vladimir Putin to sabotage a long-awaited counter-offensive could be catastrophic.

I have stood on the banks of the Kakhovka reservoir upstream from the destroyed dam, looking out at a water expanse so vast that in places the opposite bank cannot be seen. Little wonder locals often call it a sea.

This Soviet-era reservoir contains about 18 cubic km of water. It is more than twice the size of Loch Ness – Britain’s biggest inland waterway – which holds more water than all the lakes in England and Wales combined along its 23 miles.

And its waters were filled to record levels. The attack threatens at least 80 Ukrainian settlements – including the city of Kherson, liberated from Russia in November – while sabotaging power supplies for three million people and the cooling systems for Europe’s biggest nuclear plant.

Fortunately, experts said there was no immediate danger from the Zaporizhzhia plant, currently occupied by the Russians. Five of the six reactors have been shut since last year while the sixth relies on water from a pond.

Yet thousands of lives have already been devastated by the breach – as is clear from the heart-breaking images of weary refugees clutching any possessions they could salvage as coffee-coloured water levels rose around their homes. And the ecological damage could last for decades.

An aide to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, described the dam blast is ‘ecocide’. At least 150 tons of oil were swept into the deluge, while mines laid by both sides in the war were sucked up from the banks by the gushing torrent. Many exploded – but others will turn up intact in fields, gardens, streets and beaches downstream.

One senior Ukrainian scientist predicted that about 100 sq km of land would suffer flooding, with the flora and fauna in one of the most fertile areas of Europe suffering long-term damage from silt and water contamination.

The blame game over the breach began immediately yesterday. Both Kyiv and Moscow accused each other and launched investigations into the attack on the 100-foot-high dam, which was completed in 1956 and feeds a crucial network of canals taking water to Crimea.

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, calling the explosions ‘an abhorrent act’, suggested they were a war crime – not least because it took place a day after a long-awaited Ukrainian counter-offensive had reportedly begun.

Rishi Sunak last night said that if the breach was intentional it would ‘represent the largest attack on civilian infrastructure in Ukraine since the start of the war’. ‘Attacks on civilian infrastructure are appalling and wrong,’ he said.

A defence minister in Kyiv claimed on Monday that Ukraine had made advances around Bakhmut, in the eastern Donbas region. There have also been at least two incursions over the border by anti-Putin Russian forces.

Yet the attack on the dam will not have surprised Ukraine’s military planners. President Zelensky – whose home city of Kryvyi Rih was among the areas hit by water shortages – warned last October that Russia had rigged explosives to the structure.

Security officials in Kyiv yesterday said munitions would have been detonated remotely, blaming a motorised division based in the area. The operation created a ‘defensive moat’ that could slow the speed of any advance, aided by heavy Russian fortifications.

UK defence expert Michael Clarke, formerly of the RUSI military think-tank, said evidence pointed strongly towards Moscow being responsible. ‘This action supports Russia’s aims much more strongly than Ukraine’s,’ he said. ‘So it is very hard to believe Ukraine would have done this, even if it could have done. Remember, the explosion was on Russia’s side of the dam.’

The reaction from Putin’s local stooges was one of confusion. Initially they denied there were blasts, then said the dam gave way due to previous damage, before boasting of submerging enemy soldiers and finally blaming Ukraine for shelling.

Kremlin denials were undermined by Yegor Guzenko, a Russian blogger, who claimed to have predicted an attack. ‘How many times did I say that one day this dam would 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 Russia has carried out such actions. In August 1941, retreating forces blew up a dam that fed the most powerful hydro-electric plant in Europe to thwart the Nazis.

So is Putin once again emulating Stalin with his destructive deeds in Ukraine?

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