Strategically vital Nova Khakovka dam destroyed near border with Ukraine and Russia-controlled Crimea

(LONDON) — A section of a strategically vital Ukrainian dam and hydroelectric powerplant under Russian control has been destroyed. Ukraine and Russia are blaming each other for the breach.

The Nova Kakhovka dam, which was built in 1956 and traverses the enormous Dnipro River in southern Ukraine, suffered an breach overnight at approximately 2 a.m. local time as a deluge of water could be seen bursting through the dam that had previously held back more than 18 cubic kilometers of water — comparable to the size of the Great Salt Lake in Utah.

The dam’s breach could have a massive impact on the wider war effort between Russia and Ukraine.

A defiant President Volodymyr Zelenskyy held an emergency meeting of his National Security Council on Tuesday and blamed “Russian terrorists” for the dam collapse.

“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,” Zelenskyy said in a message on social media. “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.”

Meanwhile, an estimated 16,000 residents who live downriver were told to leave immediately after the breach as the governor of Kherson ordered an immediate evacuation of citizens. Officials told residents they had five hours to get out, instructing them only to take essential documents and directing them to buses that would take them to higher ground.

“The United Nations has no access to independent information on the circumstances that led to the destruction in the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant dam,” the UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement Tuesday. “But one thing is clear: this is another devastating consequence of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.”

The UN said it is rushing support to Ukraine, which includes drinking water, water purification tablets and other “critical” assistance.

The breach at the Nova Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant, which seems to be beyond repair, could also affect the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant which is located approximately 100 miles upstream.

The reservoir provides cooling water to the plant and the International Atomic Energy Agency, said it is “closely monitoring” the situation surrounding the dam but that there was “no immediate nuclear safety risk” to Zaporizhzhia.

In an interview with the New York Times, Ivan Plachkov — a former minister of energy of Ukraine — said that all six nuclear reactors at the Zaporizhzhia Plant are shut down but still require water to dissipate heat from the radioactive fuel remaining in the reactor cores.

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