Russia’s ‘war crime’ destruction of dam leaves nuke plant at risk

Ukraine: Footage from the destruction at Kakhovka dam

Britain accused Russia of a war crime yesterday amid claims Kremlin forces blew up a major dam in southern Ukraine.

The “abhorrent act” triggered fears of a nuclear catastrophe and caused extensive flooding with tens of thousands of homes at risk of being washed away.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky claimed the Kakhovka dam was “mined by Russian occupiers”.

Moscow denied the accusation and claimed Ukraine attacked the dam in a “deliberate act of sabotage”.

The vast structure across the Dnipro River forms part of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power station but also feeds the cooling system for the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant –the biggest such facility in Europe.

A state of emergency has been declared and the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed it was urgently monitoring events, but it stressed the situation was currently “under control”.

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly described the attack as a “war crime” and a “catastrophe”. He added: “The destruction of Kakhovka dam is an abhorrent act. Intentionally attacking civilian infrastructure is a war crime.”

Nuclear experts said the risk of a meltdown, like that in Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1986, was small.

Professor Philip Thomas of Bristol University said: “All six reactors at Zaporizhzhia have been shut down for over eight months, which means their requirements for cooling water will be only a fraction of what they needed when they were operating.”

However, at least 24 different settlements in the Kherson region are already flooded, Ukraine’s interior ministry said last night.

Mass evacuations are continuing across the area. And as ­torrents of water continued to gush through the stricken dam, authorities warned river levels could rise by more than 40ft in some areas.

In one instance, an entire house was seen floating down the river.

Witnesses said there was no shelling at the time of the dam breaching, just a sudden “bang” that resulted in sections starting to fall away.

One said: “The ground is shaking under my feet. Look, it’s falling! [Water] is washing everything away.” President Zelensky laid the blame squarely at Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s door, saying: “The destruction of the Kakhovka hydro-electric power plant dam only confirms for the whole world that the Russians must be expelled from every corner of Ukrainian land.

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“Not a single metre should be left to them because they use every metre 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.” European Council president Charles Michel also blamed the attack on Russia and, like Mr Cleverly, said the destruction of civilian infrastructure was a war crime.

Jens Stoltenberg, secretary ­general of Nato, described the attack as “outrageous”.

Ukraine believes the explosions at the dam were caused by mines.

Natalia Humeniuk, a spokeswoman for the military’s south operational command, said: “It was severely damaged. It was blown up from the inside.

“The Russians decided that this way they would be able to stop the counter-offensive of Ukrainian forces.” But Russian authorities – who control the town of Nova Kakhovka where the dam is situated – quickly blamed Ukraine for mining the dam.

Vladimir Leontyev, head of the occupation administration, confirmed the upper part of the dam had been destroyed in the blast, but not the entire structure.

He said: “At about 2am, numerous strikes were carried out on the Kakhovka hydro-electric power station. As a result, water from the Kakhovka reservoir began to uncontrollably be discharged downstream.”

The water from the reservoir also supplies Russian-held Crimea.

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