Ukraine accuses Russia of 'war crime' after major dam destroyed risking deadly flooding

An unstoppable tide of water threatens to wipe out hundreds of thousands of people, after an explosion at a Ukraine dam, ITV News Correspondent John Ray reports

Ukraine has accused Russian forces of blowing up a major dam and hydroelectric power station in the south of the country, causing a massive flood.

Hundreds of thousands of residents, in the Ukrainian controlled area of Kherson, were ordered to gather essential documents and pets, and evacuate following the explosion at the Kakhovka dam on Tuesday.

The huge flow of water has reportedly wiped out 80 villages since Tuesday morning.

Officials say in the next few hours the torrents of water could cause an “ecological disaster” impacting thousands of animals destroying ecosystems.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called an emergency meeting to deal with the crisis.

He called it “the largest man-made environmental disaster in Europe in decades.”

Russian officials said the dam was damaged by Ukrainian military strikes in the contested area.

Ukrainian authorities have previously warned that the dam’s failure could unleash 18 million cubic meters (4.8 billion gallons) of water, flooding Kherson and dozens of other areas where hundreds of thousands of people live.

The deluge is also threatening a meltdown at a nearby Russian-occupied nuclear power plant.

Rishi Sunak said the destruction of the Kakhovka dam would mark a “new low” in the conflict if Russian forces were found to be responsible.

The prime minister said the immediate priority was the humanitarian response to the catastrophe, which has flooded villages, endangered vital crops and threatened drinking water supplies.

Mr Sunak, speaking to reporters as he travelled to Washington for talks with US President Joe Biden, said if it was an intentional act to blow up the dam it would be “the largest attack on civilian infrastructure” since the start of Vladimir Putin’s war. He said that attacks on civilian infrastructure were “appalling and wrong”.

The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency wrote on Twitter that its experts were closely monitoring the situation at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant upstream, and there was “no immediate nuclear safety risk” at the facility.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres, ahead of an emergency Security Council meeting, called it a “monumental humanitarian, economic and ecological catastrophe” and “another devastating consequence of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.”

The Ukrainian interior ministry wrote on Telegram that the dam had been blown up, and called for the residents of 10 villages on the river’s right bank and parts of the city of Kherson downriver to leave the area.

Kakhovka dam in southern Ukraine before the alleged bombing on Monday, June 5, 2023. Credit: AP

There have also been warnings over disinformation as footage from what appeared to be a monitoring camera overlooking the dam began circulating on social media.

The video appears to show a flash, followed by an explosion and the dam collapsing.

Oleksandr Prokudin, the head of the Kherson Regional Military Administration, said in a video posted to Telegram shortly before 7 am on Tuesday that “the Russian army has committed yet another act of terror,” and warned that water will reach “critical levels” within five hours.

A home being swept away in the powerful floods - the video has gone viral on social media

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, who is visiting Ukraine, tweeted: "The destruction of Kakhovka dam is an abhorrent act.

"Intentionally attacking exclusively civilian infrastructure is a war crime. The UK stands ready to support Ukraine and those affected by this catastrophe."

Earlier he said: "the best thing Russia can do now is withdraw their troops immediately".

"The only reason this is an issue at all is because of Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine," says James Cleverly.

Downing Street “wouldn’t rule out” raising an attack on a major dam in Ukraine with Russia after Kyiv blamed Moscow for the damage.

Asked whether there are plans to bring up the issue with Russia, Rishi Sunak’s official spokesman told reporters: “I wouldn’t rule that out at this stage.

“I think obviously at the moment we are looking into the situation and if there is more to update on later on, we will do so.”

Asked whether the Government believes Russia blew up the Kakhovka dam, the official said: “We are carefully monitoring the situation and we stand ready to support those affected.

Both Ukraine and Russia have previously accused each other of targeting the dam with attacks, and last October Zelenskyy predicted that Vladimir Putin's forces would destroy the dam in order to cause a flood.

Ukraine controls five of the six dams along the Dnipro River, which runs from its northern border with Belarus down to the Black Sea, and is crucial for the entire country’s drinking water and power supply.

The Kakhovka dam - the one furthest downstream in the Kherson region - is controlled by Russian forces.

On Monday, Russia's Defence Ministry claimed Ukraine launched a major offensive overnight to "no success".

Though it is unclear whether the attack was the beginning of Ukraine's highly-anticipated counteroffensive, Russia has claimed its forces had thwarted a large enemy attack in the eastern province of Donetsk.

The Ukrainian military dismissed the allegation, suggesting Russia was executing a misinformation campaign.

For months, Ukrainian officials have spoken of plans to launch a spring counteroffensive to reclaim territory Russia has occupied since invading on February 24, 2022, as well as the Crimean Peninsula it seized in 2014.

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