About 42,000 people are at risk from flooding on both sides of the Dnipro River after the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam, officials in Ukraine say, with floodwaters expected to peak on Wednesday.
The prediction came after UN aid chief Martin Griffiths told the security council on Tuesday night that the dam breach “will have grave and far-reaching consequences for thousands of people in southern Ukraine on both sides of the front line through the loss of homes, food, safe water and livelihoods”.
“The sheer magnitude of the catastrophe will only become fully realized in the coming days,” he said.
No flood-related deaths have been reported, but US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the flooding had probably caused “many deaths”.
Satellite images taken on Tuesday afternoon by Maxar Technologies showed houses and other buildings submerged, many with only their roofs showing.
Maxar said the images of more than 2,500 square km (965 square miles) between Nova Kakhovka and the Dniprovska Gulf, southwest of Kherson city on the Black Sea, showed numerous towns and villages flooded.
About 80 communities are believed to be threatened by flooding, with buses, trains and private vehicles marshaled to carry people to safety.
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, has declared the destruction of the dam an “environmental bomb of mass destruction” and said only liberating the entire country could guarantee against new “terrorist” acts.
Ukraine and Russia have blamed each other for the dam breach
Ukraine and Russia have blamed each other for the collapse of the dam in the Kherson region, with Ukraine’s UN envoy accusing his Russian counterpart of floundering in a “mud of lies” during an emergency meeting of the UN security council on Tuesday night.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was conveniently well-prepared with his statement that: “We can already unequivocally declare (this was) deliberate sabotage by the Ukrainian side,” declaring that Kyiv’s aim was to deprive Crimea of water.
According to Mykhailo Podolyak, one of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky’s most senior advisers, the answer to who is to blame for the destruction is clear: he reasons that it was done to thwart the Ukrainian offensive in this area.
#Russia blew up the dams of the #Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant. The purpose is obvious: to create insurmountable obstacles on the way of the advancing #AFU; to intercept the information initiative; to slow down the fair final of the war. On a vast territory, all life will be… pic.twitter.com/rFpkDbjyhj
— Михайло Подоляк (@Podolyak_M) June 6, 2023
The enormous flood that it has triggered is likely to devastate vast areas on both banks of the Dnipro south towards Crimea. This will make offensive operations by Ukrainian ground forces in this area difficult, probably for months to come, without similarly weakening Russian defensive lines.
Moreover, it will also make it more difficult for Ukrainian forces to advance further towards Crimea, the peninsula that Russia has illegally occupied since 2014.
There are precedents in Russia’s history for such action, Stefan Wolff, Professor of International Security, University of Birmingham notes.
Writing in The Conversation he says that Stalin ordered the destruction of a dam across the Dnipro river in 1941 in the face of invading German forces. Russia also practised a scorched earth policy during Napoleon’s invasion in 1812, leaving the French army little to live on and only the burning ruins of Moscow to capture.
“Devastating destruction of things that it claims to value appears part of the Russian way of war,” Wolff adds.