Ukraine says Kahkovka dam destruction won't derail counteroffensive

Flooding in Kherson after dam failure
(Image credit: Muhammed Enes Yildirim / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The failure early Tuesday of the Russian-controlled Nova Kakhovka hydroelectric dam caused devastating flooding on both sides of Ukraine's Dnipro River, prompting the evacuation of thousands of civilians and killing most of the animals at Nova Kakhovka's zoo. Ukraine and Russia each blamed each other for destroying the dam, and Western governments said they didn't yet have enough information to definitively assess the cause of the dam's collapse, though Russia had more motive.

The dam "was mined by the Russian occupiers," said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. "And they blew it up." Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov claimed that the damage was "a deliberate sabotage by the Ukrainian side," in part to deprive Russia-occupied Crimea of water.

Civil engineers and explosives experts told The New York Times an internal explosion in the dam's engine rooms was the likeliest explanation for the destruction of the massive steel-reinforced concrete dam. An external bomb or missile strike probably wouldn't have been enough to breach the structure.

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"The explosion came from within, so it had to be done by someone who had control over the territory, and those are the Russians," Ukrainian lawmaker Inna Sovsun told CNN. "It is part of the plan to suspend the counteroffensive. Whether it will be successful or not, I think the coming days will show." A European diplomat told CNN that any offensive operations Ukraine had "planned downstream from the dam probably has to be replanned."

Ukraine acknowledged that the flooding dislodged Ukrainian positions on the west bank of the Dnipro and limited its options for retaking Russian-occupied eastern Kherson Oblast, but Zelenskyy said the "detonation of the dam did not affect Ukraine's ability to de-occupy its own territories." He added that the "chaotic" manner of the dam's destruction also caught Russian troops off-guard, flooding their east-bank positions and washing away their military equipment.

Russia destroyed the dam "to make it impossible for the Ukrainian armed forces to advance in the future," but "no one on the Russian side was able to get away," Ukrainian Capt. Andrei Pidlisnyi told CNN, saying his troops saw Russian soldiers being swept away in the floodwaters and killed in the chaos.

"The flood washes away Russian defenses there but makes a river crossing now exceedingly more difficult" for Ukraine, Russia military analyst Michael Kofman told The Washington Post. Whoever was responsible, he told the Times, the disaster "ultimately benefits nobody."

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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.