The wall of the Nova Khakhovka dam in Russian-occupied southern Ukraine collapsed this morning, endangering Europe’s largest nuclear power plant and threatening drinking water supplies, as both sides in the war rushed to evacuate civilians.
Around 100 towns and villages are expected to be affected by the flood.
A zoo called Kazkova Dibrova, located right on the bank of the Dnipro, was completely flooded and all 300 animals were dead, a representative said via the zoo’s Facebook account.
‘The park was mined and it was impossible to evacuate the animals. We tried to save them. Every day, under fire, two workers risked their lives to go to Dibrova to feed the animals,’ the representative said.
‘Now Russia has destroyed everything. Our soul is torn by pain.’
Emergency crews began evacuations this morning, officials raced to check cooling systems at the nearby Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station and authorities expressed concern about supplies of drinking water to the south in Crimea – which Russia illegally annexed in 2014.
The Russian-installed mayor of occupied Nova Kakhovka, Vladimir Leontyev, said it was being evacuated as water poured into the city.
Residents of Nova Kakhovka, which sits on the Russian-controlled southern bank of the Dnipro River, said the mood was tense in town.
Locals said Russian authorities told them to ‘collect personal belongings and documents, take food for 3 days and drinking water. Turn off gas and water before leaving your residential buildings’.
Russian soldiers were patrolling the streets, several local people said.
Yevheniya, a female resident, said the water was up to the knees of Russian soldiers walking the main street in high rubber boots.
‘If you try to go somewhere they don’t allow, they immediately point their machine guns at you,’ she said.’
More and more water is coming every hour, it’s very dirty.
Writing on Telegram this morning, Zelensky said: ‘Russian terrorists. 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.
‘Not a single meter should be left to them, because they use every meter for terror. It’s only Ukraine’s victory that will return security. And this victory will come. The terrorists will not be able to stop Ukraine with water, missiles or anything else.
‘All services are working. I have convened the National Security and Defense Council. Please spread official and verified information only.’
The president of the European Council, Charles Michel, said on Twitter that the dam’s rupture ‘clearly qualifies as a war crime’ because it is destruction of civilian infrastructure.
He promised to hold Russia and its proxies accountable.
Ukrainian authorities have previously said the dam’s failure could unleash 4.8 billion gallons of water and flood Kherson and dozens of other areas where hundreds of thousands of people live.
Prior to the blast, Ukrainian forces were widely seen to be moving forward with a long-anticipated counteroffensive in patches along more than 1,000-kilometers of frontline in the east and south of Ukraine.
The damage could hinder Ukraine’s counteroffensive in the south and distract its government, while at the same time Russia depends on the dam to supply water to Crimea.