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Ukraine updates: Kyiv accuses Russia of blowing Kakhova dam

Published June 6, 2023last updated June 6, 2023

Russian-installed officials in Ukraine's Kherson region have begun civilian evacuations, while Kyiv has also reported a major leak of engine oil from the hydroelectric plant. DW has the latest.

A parked car, buildings, and a person wading through floodwaters near the scene of the Kakhovka dam explosion
Large swaths of land have been inundated in the aftermath of the Kakhovka dam explosionImage: Nina Lyashonok/AP/picture alliance

  • Moscow and Kyiv blame each other for destruction of Kakhovka dam
  • Towns immediately downstream are being evacuated
  • Russian operator of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant says there is 'no immediate threat'
  • NATO secretary-general condemns attack and says civilians are at risk

This rolling updates article from June 6, 2023 is now closed and won't be updated further. For our latest from Wednesday on the conflict in Ukraine, click here

The Kakhovka dam in southern Ukraine has been blown up, Ukrainian and Russian officials said on Tuesday, threatening to flood areas downstream along the Dnieper River, also called the Dnipro River.

Ukraine's state hydroelectric company said the power plant had been "totally destroyed" after a detonation inside the engine room.

Moscow and Kyiv have blamed each other for the damage and have offered conflicting versions on the safety situation at the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, some 150 kilometers away.

The Soviet-era dam also supplies water to the Crimean peninsula downstream, which was annexed by Russia in 2014, and supplies a reservoir upstream to the Zaporizhzhia power plant.

Several islands have flooded while both Ukrainian and Russian-installed authorities said some 80 settlements downstream were at risk of being inundated.

DW has more on the latest below.

Russia raises concern over F-16 jets, White House: 'Then get out of Ukraine'

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday warned of the threat of escalation in Ukraine should the US supply the F-16 fighter jets President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been requesting.

"We must keep in mind that one of the modifications of the F-16 can accommodate nuclear weapons. If they do not understand this, then they are worthless as military strategists and planners," Lavrov said while addressing Russian troops at a military base in Tajikistan.

Responding to the statement, White House Spokesman John Kirby said President Biden has been clear that he does not want to see an escalation, adding, "The purpose of providing advanced fighter aircraft is to help Ukraine defend itself… defend its airspace and its territorial integrity, period."

Though Biden has welcomed F-16 training for Ukrainian pilots the US has yet to make a final decision on whether to supply them.

Kirby also offered a dry bit of advice to Lavrov and his concerns, "If you’re worried about Ukrainian military capabilities, then you should take your troops and leave Ukraine."

White House assessing reports Russia behind dam explosion

The White House on Tuesday said it was studying reports that Russia, which controls the area around the Kakhovka dam, was behind the explosion that partially destroyed it, causing massive flooding in the region.

White House Spokesman John Kirby said it was unclear whether Moscow was behind the attack, but that it had caused "many deaths."

"We've seen the reports that Russia was responsible for the explosion at the dam. We're doing the best we can to assess those reports, and we are working with the Ukrainians to gather more information, but we cannot say conclusively what happened."

The White House said it was too soon to say what effect the incident would have on Ukraine's much-anticipated counteroffensive or whether the explosion was intentional. Nor was Kirby willing to call the incident a war crime. The Geneva Conventions explicitly ban targeting dams in war, due to the threat to civilians.

Hundreds of zoo animals likely killed in dam explosion

Beyond the human toll of Tuesday's dam explosion, a zoo owner from Nova Kakhovka says she fears all 300 animals there were killed in flooding, telling the Ukrainska Pravda newspaper that Russian soldiers occupying the area had made it impossible to evacuate them.

Olena Navrozka said monkeys, donkeys and ponies were among the animals at the facility. Ukraine's Interior Ministry has advised citizens not to tie up or cage animals in the event of emergency evacuations, saying this only decreases their chances of survival. 

Several online videos Tuesday showed animals such as deer, cows and dogs being rescued from floodwaters, as well as swans and beavers swimming through the streets. 

A view of damage as floodwaters rise near the Kakhovka dam and reservoir
The Kherson region sustained heavy environmental damage when the Russian-held Kakhovka dam was breached Image: OLEG TUCHYNSKY/AFP

Ukraine's environment minister says some wilderness 'lost forever' in dam explosion

Ukrainian Environmental Minister Ruslan Strilets told DW on Tuesday that flooding from the explosion of the Nova Kakhovka dam had irrevocably wiped out Ukrainian wilderness: "This is a barbarian act, this is real ecocide, and this is a real humanitarian catastrophe. Some parts of wild nature we lost forever."

Strilets said that up to a million Ukrainians could lose access to drinking water as a result of subsequent damage to the reservoir contained by the dam. He also reiterated Ukraine's rebuttal of Russian claims that Kyiv was behind the dam collapse, saying that would be impossible since the dam and the region around it are controlled by Russia. 

Ukraine says it has recorded more than 2,300 environmental crimes since Russia invaded in February 2022. Kyiv estimated the cost of resulting environmental damage at more than €52 billion ($56 billion) — before Tuesday's explosion.

Ramaphosa to lead African initiative seeking peace between Moscow and Kyiv

The office of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday announced that several African heads of state will travel to Moscow and Kyiv in the coming weeks in hopes of affecting a cease-fire designed to bring about lasting peace in Ukraine.

Though no exact date was given, a statement said the leaders of Egypt, Senegal, Uganda, Zambia, the Comoros and the African Union (AU) would accompany Ramaphosa on the trip.

Meeting on Monday, those leaders discussed, "the devastating impact the war has had on the people of Ukraine and Russia, as well as the threats this war poses to Europe and indeed the rest of the world if it continues." Ramaphosa's office said foreign ministers from Africa were working on a "roadmap to peace."  

Several African countries maintain traditionally close ties to Moscow, yet the ongoing war has direly affected their populations due to the fact that they desperately need grain shipments from both Ukraine and Russia — two of the world's largest grain exporters — which have been blocked. Shortages have also led to drastic food price increases, harming the poorest countries on the continent.

Finland to expel nine Russian 'diplomats'

Finland on Tuesday announced the expulsion of nine individuals currently working at the Russian Embassy in Helsinki, "Finland will expel nine people working in the Russian Embassy who have been acting in an intelligence capacity," said a government statement.

Finnish authorities said such "activities are in violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations." Tuesday's announcement followed a meeting between President Sauli Niinisto and the country's Ministerial Committee on Foreign and Security Policy. 

According to Foreign Ministry Director General Marja Liivala, "The decisions are based on the assessment of Finnish Security Intelligence Service (SUPO)," SUPO said the move represented "a major setback for Russian intelligence in Finland."

Finland, which borders Russia, reversed decades of strict military non-alignment policy after Moscow's invasion of Ukraine by requesting to become a member of NATO in May 2022. It became the newest member of the defense alliance in April of this year.

UN secretary-general calls dam explosion 'devastating'

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday decried the partial destruction of the Kakhovka dam in Ukraine. Guterres said that although the UN could not independently determine exactly who was behind the explosion, "One thing is clear… this is another devastating consequence of the Russian invasion of Ukraine."

Speaking at UN Headquarters in New York, he said: "Today's tragedy is yet another example of the horrific price of war on people. The floodgates of suffering have been overflowing for more than a year. That must stop."

The diplomat, who has been unwavering in his condemnation of Russia, continued: "We have all seen the tragic images coming out today of the monumental humanitarian, economic and ecological catastrophe in the Kherson region of Ukraine. The United Nations and humanitarian partners are rushing support in coordination with the government of Ukraine — including drinking water and water purification tablets and other critical assistance."

Zelenskyy tells Vatican envoy cease-fire won't lead to peace

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Tuesday told Vatican peace envoy Cardinal Matteo Zuppi that a cease-fire would not lead to peace in the ongoing conflict in his country, instead suggesting that the only way to end Russia's war of aggression was through "isolation and pressure." The president said any deal designed to end the war must be on Kyiv's terms. "The head of state emphasized that a cease-fire and freezing of the conflict will not lead to peace," the Ukrainian presidency said in a statement.

Zuppi's two-day visit to discuss "humanitarian interaction between Ukraine and the Holy See" was intended to allow the Vatican representative to, "listen in-depth to Ukrainian authorities about possible ways to achieve peace." Zelenskyy suggested "the Holy See could make an effective contribution" by seeking to bring about the return of Ukrainian prisoners of war and children "deported" to Russia.  

Pope Francis has repeatedly called for peace, even offering to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin — an offer rejected by the Kremlin — but he faced criticism for initially failing to call out Moscow for launching its invasion of neighboring Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

A woman carries a bag as she wades through floodwaters after the destruction of the Kakhovka dam
Ukrainian authorities say 17,000 residents have already been evacuated and millions will have no access to drinking waterImage: Evgeniy Maloletka/AP/picture alliance

Tens of thousands evacuated after dam explosion

Ukrainian Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin on Tuesday announced that 17,000 people had so far been evacuated in the aftermath of the Kakhovka dam explosion. "Over 40,000 people are in danger of being flooded. Ukrainian authorities are evacuating over 17,000 people," he wrote on social media. Kostin estimated that a further 25,000 people would need to be evacuated on the Russian-controlled side of the Dnieper River. 

The Germany-based Catholic aid organization Caritas on Tuesday said it had begun directing aid toward Odesa, where many displaced Ukrainians are expected to flee. The organization said those fleeing their homes would be in desperate need of water, food and shelter. 

Russia accuses Ukraine of blowing up dam as plot to 'transfer units'

Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu accused Ukraine of blowing up the critical Nova Kakhovka dam as part of a plan to redeploy units from the Kherson region.

The ministry statement read the flooding was to prevent Russia from attacking Kherson, while allowing Ukraine to "transfer units and equipment from the Kherson front to the area of offensive operations."

Shoigu did not provide evidence for his claims. Ukraine has also not provided evidence for blaming Moscow for damaging the dam.

Baerbock says Russian aggression in Ukraine leads to dam situation 

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Russia's war of aggression in Ukraine ultimately led to the situation wherein an important dam was damaged.

Baerbock tweeted: "A dam near a nuclear power plant is misused as a weapon of war and human lives are put in grave danger. There is only one thing responsible for this environmental catastrophe: Russia's criminal war of aggression on Ukraine."

The Nova Kakhovka dam is 30 meters high (98-foot-high) and supplies water for a wide swath of southern Ukraine. It also supplies water for the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, which lies upstream. 

Ukraine calls for emergency meeting of Security Council

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council after the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam.

"Ukraine calls for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council and brings the issue of the Russian terrorist act to the International Atomic Energy Agency's Board of Governors," Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a statement.

Kuleba asked for Russia to be kicked out of the powerful UN body. Kyiv has accused Moscow of blowing up the dam and putting thousands of lives at risk.

Nova Kakhovka flooded after dam breach

The Russian-occupied city of Nova Kakhovka, which lies immediately downstream from the dam, has been inundated, Moscow-installed officials said.

"Water is rising," Russian-installed Mayor Vladimir Leontyev said.

"We are organizing temporary accommodation centers with hot meals," he said, adding that 53 buses were being sent to evacuate civilians. 

"Emergency rescuers, city administration workers and soldiers are at work," he added. "Help will be given to all those who need it."

Leontyev posted footage to Telegram showing flooding in the town's main square, and near the main Soviet-era house of culture.

An areal shot of flooding in Nova Kakhovka
Civilians have been evacuated from Nova KakhovkaImage: Kherson Region emergency service/dpa/picture alliance

Ukrainian officials condemn ecological destruction

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the flooding caused by the dam explosion could cause "long and irreversible harm" to the region's environment.

"Animals in the Nova Kakhovka Zoo have already died in the rising water," he said, adding it was "only the beginning of harm" for the wildlife in southern Ukraine.

"We are witnessing (an) ecocide on a regional, not just Ukrainian, scale," he added.       

Meanwhile, senior presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said "a global ecological disaster is playing out now, online, and thousands of animals and ecosystems will be destroyed in the next few hours."

Dam attack causes major oil leak

Ukraine has warned of a "negative impact" on the environment after a large amount oil from the Kakhovka hydroelectric dam spilled into the Dnieper River.

"150 tonnes of engine oil got into the Dnieper River due to the explosion," presidential communications advisor Daria Zarivna said on social media.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy added that there is "a risk of further leakage of more than 300 tons."

Germany's Scholz says explosion consistent with Putin's strategy

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the attack on the Kakhovka dam is in line with Russian President Vladimir Putin's strategy of escalating violence and targeting civilian infrastructure.

"For this reason, this is something that has a new dimension but which fits with the way in which Putin wages this war," Scholz said in an interview with German broadcaster WDR.

He said this makes it all the more important for German to support Ukraine for as long as necessary. Moscow has blamed Ukrainian forces for the incident.

Kakhovka breach could affect water supply and nuclear plant

Ukrainian and Russian officials trade blame

"The Kakhovka [reservoir] was blown up by the Russian occupying forces," the South command of Ukraine's Armed Forces said on Tuesday morning on its Facebook page.

"The scale of the destruction, the speed and volumes of water, and the likely areas of inundation are being clarified."

The Ukraine's Kherson regional administration said that the water level would reach a critical level in five hours and began evacuating the population from dangerous areas.

The Moscow-installed mayor of the nearby town of Nova Kakhovka initially denied social media reports that the dam had been blown up, but later said the dam had been shelled in "a serious terrorist act."

Zelenskyy accused 'Russian terrorists' of dam attack

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy labeled Russia "terrorists" and lay the blame at Moscow's feet.

"The destruction of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant dam only confirms for the whole world that they must be expelled from every corner of Ukrainian land," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.

"Not a single meter should be left to them, because they use every meter for terror."

Zelenskyy said he had convened the National Security and Defense Council and called for people to spread only official and verified information.

Evacuations underway downstream

Russian-installed mayor of Nova Kakhovka, which lies immediately downstream from the dam, has begun civilian evacuations. A state of emergency has also been declared in the district.

Vladimir Leontyev said the water level in the town had risen by 10 meters (33 feet) and is expected to reach 12 meters.

"The water continues to mount. An evacuation is being carried out of civilians from the adjacent flooded zones to preserve all lives... There is no panic in the town," he said in a video message on Telegram.

A flooded church in Nova Kakhovka
Photos published by Russian media show inundated settlements along the Dnipro RiverImage: Kherson Region emergency service/Tass/dpa/picture alliance

NATO condemns dam blast

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the destruction of the Kakhovka dam shows the brutality of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

"The destruction of the Kakhovka dam today puts thousands of civilians at risk and causes severe environmental damage," Stoltenberg said in a post on Twitter

"This is an outrageous act, which demonstrates once again the brutality of Russia's war in Ukraine."

Meanwhile, Ukrainian presidential advisor Andriy Yermak called the incident "ecocide."

Russia claims the dam was shelled by Ukrainian forces.

NATO: Desctruction of Ukraine dam 'outrageous'

'No immediate risk' to Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant 

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said there is "no immediate threat" to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.

"IAEA experts at Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant are closely monitoring the situation," the United Nations agency wrote on Twitter. 

The Russian engineer currently in charge of the power plant, Yury Chernichuk, said the water cooling the facility's spent nuclear fuel storage rods operates on a closed circuit and is not in direct contact with the Dnieper River.

"At the moment there are no threats to the safety of Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant," the official with Russia's state nuclear energy corporation Rosatom said.

Ukraine's state nuclear agency also said the situation was under control, but added that lower water levels nevertheless posed an additional threat to the safety of the power station.

js, rm, zc, dh/msh, kb (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)