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Kiev: The destruction of the Nova Kakhovka Dam causes the worst environmental disaster since Chernobyl

A Ukrainian official considered the destruction of the huge Nova Kakhovka dam, located in the Russian-controlled parts of the Kherson region in southern Ukraine, yesterday (Tuesday), “the worst environmental disaster in Europe since Chernobyl.”

Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Andriy Melnik described the Nova Kakhovka dam accident as “Europe’s worst environmental disaster since Chernobyl,” adding that the effects of the dam explosion are wide-ranging, from people homeless to drowning animals and polluting the environment, Politico reported.

In a related context, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denis Shmygal said today (Wednesday) that Russia had caused “one of the worst environmental disasters in recent decades” after the dam was blown up. “Dozens of towns and villages will find themselves facing problems with drinking water and access to irrigation water supplies,” he said in a speech delivered remotely during an event organized by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, describing the act that Kiev blames on Russia as a “crime against humanity” and “environmental genocide”.

“We now know that 600 or even 800 tons of oil were released into the water,” Ukrainian Environment Minister Ruslan Strelets said in Brussels. He continued, “This oil spill will drift into the Dnipro River, and I am sure it will be in the Black Sea.”

In his nightly speech, published early Wednesday, Zelensky called the attack “ecocide,” saying: “An oil slick of at least 150 tons is formed and carried by the current into the Black Sea. We cannot yet predict how much chemicals, fertilizers and oil products stored in flooded areas will end up in rivers and sea.”

Russia announced on Tuesday that the massive Nova Kakhovka hydroelectric dam, located in Russian-controlled parts of the Kherson region in southern Ukraine, had been destroyed and that water had flooded the area. Ukraine accuses Russia of blowing up the dam from the inside, a deliberate war crime. The mayor of Nova Kakhovka, appointed by Moscow, said that the upper part of the dam was destroyed as a result of the bombing.

Russia takes control of the dam on February 24, 2022, the first day of its comprehensive invasion of Ukraine, while the Kremlin pointed the finger at Ukraine, but did not provide any evidence.

Officials appointed by Russia gave conflicting accounts of the event, some attributed the cause to the Ukrainian bombing, while others said that the dam collapsed on its own. Neither side has yet presented public evidence to prove their accusation. The Geneva Conventions expressly prohibit targeting dams in war due to their danger to civilians, according to the Reuters news agency.

Streets flooded in the Ukrainian city of Kherson after the explosion of the Nova Kakhovka Dam (AP)

The destruction of the dam heralds a new humanitarian crisis in the war zone and shifts the front lines as Ukraine prepares to launch a long-awaited counter-attack to expel Russian forces from its territory.

The disaster that occurred early yesterday (Tuesday) when explosions destroyed the Nova Kakhovka Dam in southern Ukraine drained one of the largest reservoirs on the continent. The explosion forced the evacuation of thousands of people downstream, polluted the land, destroyed a large electricity generator, and will cause future problems with the water supply.

Previous warnings

Ukraine has long warned of the danger. In October, President Zelensky called on the West to pressure Russia not to blow up the dam, which he said had been supplied with explosives. “The destruction of the dam means a large-scale disaster,” he said.

Map showing the location of the dam and the location of the Zaporizhia Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine (Politico)

Zelensky wrote on Telegram: “Russian terrorists. The destruction of the Kakhovka hydroelectric dam only confirms to the whole world that they must be expelled from every corner of the Ukrainian land.” He added that the Russians “carried out an internal explosion of the structure” of the dam, noting that water flooded about 80 residential areas in the area.

But while international observers are at Zaporizhia, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, this was not the case with the Nova Kakhovka dam. The dam has seen months of fighting, as Ukraine pushed Russian forces back over the Dnipro River last year, and it now lies on the front line between the two armies.

humanitarian catastrophe

The governor of the Ukrainian region of Kherson said that Russian forces bombed the area several times during the past day, killing one person and wounding another. Governor Oleksandr Prokudin said via the Telegram application that the bombing included the city of Kherson.

A citizen passes through water that flooded the ground in a street in the Ukrainian city of Kherson (AFP)

Prokudin indicated that the process of evacuating citizens from dangerous areas, which are at risk of flooding, has begun after the dam was blown up. He said: “The process of evacuating residents from dangerous areas has begun. All services are still working. Emergency services, police and military are present. Please take documents and essential items with you and wait for the evacuation buses.”

Prokudin explained that the water level will reach a critical level within five hours. The Ukrainian President holds an emergency meeting with the Defense and National Security Council regarding the dam bombing.

Flooded homes

“Our local school and our playground in the city center were flooded,” said Lydia Zubova, 67, who was waiting for a train to leave the city after leaving her flooded village of Antonivka. “The whole road was flooded and our bus broke down.”

Yevgenia, a resident, told Reuters news agency that the water was high on the main street, where Russian soldiers in high rubber boots were walking. “If you try to go to a place they don’t allow, they point their machine guns at you right away… More water flows every hour,” she added.

On the bank of the Russian-controlled Dnipro River, the mayor of Nova Kakhovka said the water level had risen to 11 metres.

Residents said some of them decided to stay even though the Russian occupiers had ordered them out. “They say they are ready to shoot without warning,” said a man named Hleeb, of the encounters with Russian forces. If you get one meter closer than what is allowed, they immediately start swearing. We are still not allowed to go to the store, but we don’t know what orders will come next.’

One person wrote on the Kazkova Dibrova Zoo Facebook page saying that the Russian-controlled riverside zoo was completely flooded and all 300 animals were dead.

A Ukrainian security man helps citizens during the evacuation process as a result of the dam explosion (AFP)

A Russian-appointed regional official said on Tuesday that the small town of Oleshki on the bank of the Russian-controlled Dnipro River was almost completely submerged. using special equipment.

The Nova Kakhovka dam supplies water to the Crimean peninsula and the Zaporizhya nuclear power plant, both of which are under the control of Russia. The huge reservoir behind the dam is 240 km long and 23 km wide. The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency said the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, on the Russian-controlled bank of the Dnipro River, would have enough water to cool its reactors “for a few months” from a separate pond.