Ukraine blames Russia for destroying major hydroelectric dam 'in panic' as counteroffensive starts

Ukraine accused Russia of blowing up the Kakhovka dam on the Dnipro River early Tuesday, sending a Great Salt Lake's worth of water downstream to flood communities and wreak massive ecological damage in both Ukrainian and Russian-occupied Kherson province. The dam, a major hydroelectric power station and the only Dnipro crossing in the region, has been under Russian control since last year. The Russian-appointed mayor of nearby Nova Kakhovka said overnight shelling caused the dam's collapse, though he did not say whether the shells were fired by Ukraine or Russia.

Ukraine said 16,000 civilians on the West side of the river, which it controls, are at critical risk from flooding. The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant upstream is also in eventual danger as it uses water from the draining Kakhovka Reservoir to cool the plant's six reactors, which have been in cold shutdown mode for months. The Kakhovka dam power station, ruined beyond repair, provided electricity to three million people.

"Russian terrorists," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wrote on Telegram. "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." Russian occupiers "blew up the Kakhovka Reservoir dam in panic," Ukraine's Defense Intelligence department suggested. "This terrorist act is a sign of the Putin regime's panic."

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The demolition of Kakhovka dam coincided with what Russian and U.S. officials said was the start of Ukraine's long-awaited counteroffensive to reclaim Russian-occupied land. The dam's destruction "could win Russia time to reconfigure its defenses while at the same time depriving Ukraine of some options," The Wall Street Journal noted. Ukraine can now no longer cross the Dnipro along that stretch of the front line, for example, so Russia could redeploy forces in the area to defend sections further north.

But "in the longer term, the flooding could also wash away fortifications put up by Russian forces in the area," the Journal said. And some Russian pro-military bloggers suggested that the lower Dnipro water levels upstream could allow Ukrainian forces to cross into Russian occupied Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. The reservoir also supplied a canal that brought drinking water to Russian-occupied Crimea, and the "devastating consequences" from dam's destruction will include "a decadelong water shortage" on the peninsula, said Mustafa Nayyem, the head of Ukraine's State Agency for Restoration and Infrastructure Development.

Ukraine's Kakhovka Dam

Ukraine's Kakhovka Dam
(Image credit: Yasin Demirci / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

European Council president Charles Michel said the "unprecedented attack" on civilian infrastructure "clearly qualifies as a war crime — and we will hold Russia and its proxies accountable." British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly told Reuters from Ukraine that "it's too early to make any kind of meaningful assessment of the details," but "it's worth remembering that the only reason this is an issue at all is because of Russia's unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine."

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.