A dam collapse after Russian shelling has flooded the Ukrainian town of Kherson, putting over 16,000 people out of their homes and threatening another 6,000.
The Kakhova dam on the Dnieper River collapsed on Tuesday, flooding villages and destroying crops and drinking water. The dam sat on the Moscow-controlled part of the river, occupied since the beginning of the Russian invasion. Both sides are accusing the other of intentionally damaging the dam, but external sources have only confirmed Russian shelling in the area before the collapse began. Russia also has a history of attacking dams as an established military tactic.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called it “the largest man-made environmental disaster in Europe in decades.” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called it “another devastating consequence of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.” Other officials called it an “ecological disaster” and a “terrorist act.” The collapse has also begun to drain the long reservoir above the dam, which provides water to most of Ukraine and other eastern European countries besides.
So far, there have been no confirmed casualties of the flooding or dam collapse, with the communities of Kherson and its surrounding villages banding together to help evacuees. Over 40 communities are already flooded, in both the Russian- and Ukrainian-controlled sides of the river.
“The Russians have hit the dam, and didn’t think of consequences,” said Oleksandr Sokeryn, who fled his house with his family after it was completely flooded. “They should not be forgiven.”
One major concern of the dam collapse is the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, which sits on the bank upriver and relies on the reservoir remaining filled for its cooling water. It has been shut down for over six months, but must still be constantly cooled. At the rate the lake is currently dropping, that situation could become critical in days. Another concern is the contamination that sudden flooding is causing to drinking water, water the populace is now forced to wade in.