While Ukraine is blaming the Russian forces for the destruction of a key dam in the Russian-controlled Kherson region early on Tuesday, its mayor has accused Kiev of destroying the dam to mask the country's counteroffensive "failures" in the east.
Vladimir Saldo, mayor of the Kherson region, said in a video on Telegram, that Kiev had struck the Nova Kakhovka dam to to distract attention from the “failures of the counteroffensive.”
Russia’s TASS news agency, citing emergency service in Kherson, said that Ukraine had hit the region with Storm Shadow missiles which had been supplied to Ukraine by Britain.
Satellite images and videos on social media show a series of intense explosions around the Nova Kakhovka dam, as flood water was unleashed across the war zone.
The flood, threatening scores of villages, has sparked fear of large-scale devastation and mass evacuation.
Mayor of Nova Kakhovka, Vladimir Leontiev, also confirmed that the dam is partly destroyed in what he called “a serious terrorist act”, but said there was “no need to evacuate.”
“Overnight strikes on the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant destroyed gate valves, causing water to be spilled downstream uncontrollably,” Leontiev said.
“If necessary, we are ready to evacuate the residents of embankment villages, buses are prepared,” he said.
Andrey Alekseenko, another Russian-installed Kherson official, also echoed Leontiev, saying the situation along the banks of Dnipro was “under control.”
Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who convened an emergency meeting of his security chiefs, also accused Moscow of the dam destruction in strong terms, urging the “expulsion” of all Russian forces from the “Ukrainian land.”
Zelensky said the Russian forces blew up the dam overnight from inside the facility.
“Tonight at 02:50, Russian terrorists carried out an internal detonation of the structures of the Kakhovskaya HPP. About 80 settlements are in the zone of flooding,” he said.
The president of the European Council also blamed Russia for the explosion, writing on Twitter that “Russia and its proxies” will be held accountable.
“Shocked by the unprecedented attack of the Nova Kakhovka dam,” said Charles Michel. “The destruction of civilian infrastructure clearly qualifies as a war crime — and we will hold Russia and its proxies accountable.”
As the blame game continues, Andriy Yermak, head of the Office of the President of Ukraine called the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam an “ecocide.”
“The Russians will be responsible for the possible deprivation of drinking water for people in the south of Kherson region and in Crimea, the possible destruction of some settlements and the biosphere,” Yermak said.
‘No immediate nuclear threat’
Yermak warned that the dam’s destruction will “also pose a threat to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.”
Russian officials, however, announced there was no danger to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant from the destruction of the dam.
The International Atomic Energy Agency also confirmed that the power plant presents “no immediate” threats at the moment.
The IAEA experts are “closely monitoring the situation” and there is “no immediate nuclear safety risk” at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant following the destruction of the nearby dam, it said in a statement on Tuesday.
The Nova Kakhovka dam, a critical infrastructure, holds an estimated 18 cubic kilometers of water. It supplies water for much of southeastern Ukraine, Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, and the Crimean peninsula which was annexed by Russia in 2014.
Throughout the conflict, both Moscow and Kiev have accused each other of plotting to blow up the Nova Kakhovka dam, several times.
Russia began what it described as a “special military operation” in Ukraine on February 24, 2022, as part of a national security measure against the persisting eastern advance of the US-led NATO military alliance.
Moscow also said the military operation was aimed at defending the pro-Russia population in the eastern Ukrainian regions of Luhansk and Donetsk against persecution by Kiev, and also to “de-Nazify” Ukraine.