Floating mines, contaminated water, dead fish among threats from dam breach: Ukraine updates

The United Nations warned of "grave and far-reaching consequences" for thousands of Ukrainians following the massive dam breach in a Russian-controlled area of Kherson province, as the war slogged on and each side accused the other of blowing up the dam.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said the multitude of threats presented by the flooding that's impacting more than 80 settlements included not just lack of drinking water and power outages but dislodged mines, infectious bacteria and chemicals in the floodwaters.

"Water is disturbing mines that were laid earlier, causing them to explode," Kubrakov told reporters in Kherson city, less than 40 miles downstream of the heavily damaged Kakhovka dam, according to Reuters.

"Water is disturbing mines that were laid earlier, causing them to explode," Kubrakov, dressed casually in a grey T-shirt, told reporters. As a result of the flooding, chemicals and infectious bacteria were getting into the water, he said.

While the cause of the dam's collapse remains unclear, the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, theorized that the Russians have more to gain from the flooding despite damage to their own defensive positions. The breach could cover a possible retreat and delay Ukraine’s offensive, the institute said in its assessment.

Zev Faintuch, senior intelligence analyst at the international security firm Global Guardian, told USA TODAY the flooding complicates any mechanized effort by the Ukraine military to cross the Dnieper River that separates the combatants. Ukraine forces will be hindered in efforts to rapidly maneuver southwest to recapture the crucial, Russian-held city of Melitopol, he said.

Faintuch, whose firm has evacuated thousands of Ukrainians since the war began and retains personnel in the country, said the flooding also allows Russia to divert some forces away from Kherson and concentrate in the Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions. The Ukraine military said Wednesday that Russian forces already had retreated a few miles from the area around the dam − but continued to shell the swamped city of Kherson.

"They searched those areas of Kherson that were flooded," military spokesperson Nataliya Gumenyuk said Wednesday on Ukrainian TV. "They fired at the shopping center, perceiving it as a hub where (people) can gather for help."

The floodwaters could help channel Ukraine forces into some areas where Russian forces have dug in − buying the Kremlin more time, Faintuch said.

"This is an attritional war for Russia, which thinks it can outlast Kyiv with its superior ability to manufacture artillery and quantitative advantage in potential manpower," Faintuch said.

But Russia also will feel the impact, he said, by curbing access to drinking water in Crimea, which Russia has occupied since 2014. "Long term, this will make Crimea harder to live in for civilians and make the military installations ... more vulnerable," he said.


◾ Ukraine’s agriculture ministry warned of a massive impact on farming, saying 94% of irrigation systems in the Kherson province, nearly 75% in Zaporizhzhia and about 30% in Dnipropetrovsk have been left without a water source. "Fields in the south of Ukraine next year can turn into deserts,” the ministry said.

◾ Tens of thousands of fish are dying in shallow water at reservoirs in the Dnipropetrovsk province because of the dam's breach, Ukraine's Health Ministry said. "The same situation may develop in other affected regions of the country in the coming days,'' the ministry said, warning that those fish are not safe to eat.

◾ At least 20,000 homes and businesses remained without electricity, 129 transformer substations were flooded in Kherson, and two solar power plants were flooded in Mykolayiv, Ukraine's energy ministry reported Wednesday.

◾ About 3,000 people have been evacuated from flooded areas on both the Russian and Ukrainian-controlled sides of the Dnieper River, said officials, who are still trying to gauge the extent of the disaster in an affected area where more than 60,000 people lived. About 15,000 homes were flooded in Russian-occupied parts of Kherson province, authorities said.

◾ Even though officials said the dam had not been producing power since November, its collapse is expected to lead to long-term electricity shortages.

Land mines threaten residents fleeing floods

Experts worry landmines placed around the dam earlier in the conflict are now floating loose, as people on the river's left bank in the Kherson region remain stranded on rooftops. About 1,800 houses have been flooded, according to the Atlanta-based international aid group CARE, which has teams on the ground. An explosion destroyed the dam early Tuesday morning, sending a wall of floodwaters downstream.

“We are very worried about the catastrophic consequences this explosion could have on the environment," Fabrice Martin, the country director of CARE Ukraine, said in a statement. “At least 150 tons of oil have been released into the Dnipro River with the risk of further leakage of more than 300 tons. This may lead to the Nyzhniodniprovskyi National Nature Park to disappear, which is more than (300 square miles) of protected land."

− Trevor Hughes

Visual story How destruction of vital Ukraine dam unleashed floods that threaten thousands

Putin accuses Kyiv of 'terrorist methods' and sabotage

In his first public comments on the dam breach, Russian President Vladimir Putin repeated previous Kremlin charges that Ukraine is at fault.

He told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that authorities in Kyiv had escalated “war crimes, openly using terrorist methods and staging acts of sabotage on the Russian territory,” according to a state readout of their call.

Erdogan told Putin − and had also mentioned to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy − that Turkey and the U.N. could be part of an international commission to investigate the source of the collapse, Erdogan's office said, according to Reuters.

While Ukraine accuses Russia of blowing up the dam wall and Russia blames Ukrainian shelling, accidental disaster had not been ruled out. The dam was already in disrepair and vulnerable to collapse.

At least 16,000 left homeless

Authorities and rescue workers on both sides Wednesday stepped up efforts to pull residents to higher ground. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said at least 16,000 people have lost homes. Vladimir Leontyev, the Russia-installed mayor of the occupied city of Nova Kakhovka, said seven people were missing.

In the Kherson province city of Oleshky, which is controlled by Russia, a 19-year-old woman named Lera − who declined to give her last name for fear of reprisals − told The Associated Press the first floor of her home was flooded. “Everything around us is floating,'' she said. "People are standing on rooftops and asking for help, but no one is evacuating them.”

Oleksandr Prokudin, the head of the Kherson Regional Military administration, said in a video the "intensity of the floods was slightly decreasing." Even so, authorities said water levels were expected to rise and engulf more downriver areas along the banks of the Dnieper River.

Oleksandr Prokudin, the head of the Kherson Regional Military administration, said in a video the "intensity of the floods was slightly decreasing." Even so, authorities said water levels were expected to rise and engulf more downriver areas along the banks of the Dnieper River.

In an intelligence update posted on Twitter, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said the dam structure itself was “likely to deteriorate further over the next few days, causing additional flooding.”

Satellite images show towns submerged, structures swept away and flood waters surging toward the Black Sea. In some communities, residents spent the night on rooftops or perched on trees awaiting rescue. Zelenskyy said Wednesday "hundreds of thousands" have been left without access to drinking water, and efforts were being made to supply it to them.

The U.N.'s humanitarian aid chief, Martin Griffiths, said the scale of the catastrophe will only become clear in the coming days.

Zelenskyy accuses Russia of 'ecocide'

Zelenskyy described the dam's destruction as a Russian war crime, accusing the Kremlin's forces of "ecocide" and saying "Russian terrorists have detonated an environmental bomb of mass destruction." He said Russia has controlled the area around the dam for more than a year, making it impossible for Ukraine to have caused the damage. Hundreds of thousands of people have been left without normal access to drinking water, Zelenskyy said, adding that Ukrainian services can only help on the territory controlled by Ukraine.

"On the part occupied by Russia, the occupiers are not even trying to help people," he said.

Zelenskyy also said the dam collapse has threatened the lives of many animals, and he tweeted videos and photos showing people rescuing them from precarious situations. Officials at the Kazkova Dibrova Zoo in Novaya Kakhovka said it was under water and that “only swans and ducks could escape.”

"Thousands and thousands of animals are trapped in the flood after the destruction of the dam and other structures of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant by Russia,'' Zelenskyy said. "We remember that humanity means taking care not just of each other, but of all living beings.''

Russia blames Ukraine, calls for international investigation

U.S. intelligence is pointing to Russia being behind an apparent assault on the dam, NBC News reported. The dam is situated in a territory held by Russian forces on the Dnieper River. Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called for an international investigation into the cause of the dam collapse and blasted the West for assuming Russia was to blame.

"The reaction of the West in all such situations is 100% predictable," Zakharova told Russian state media. "It is an endless desire to blame Russia for everything that happens, regardless of whether it actually happened or is a figment of the imagination."

Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused Ukraine of "deliberate sabotage" and said the Kyiv regime should bear full responsibility.

Local residents carry their belongings as they evacuate from a flooded neighborhood in Kherson, Ukraine, on June 6, 2023
Local residents carry their belongings as they evacuate from a flooded neighborhood in Kherson, Ukraine, on June 6, 2023

New power plant will be built 'very quickly'

Ihor Syrota, head of the state-owned Ukrhydroenergo power company, said the peak of water spillage was expected today. The situation then will begin to stabilize, and in four to five days the water will begin to recede, he said. The power plant, however, is a total loss. Additional wells will be drilled in Kherson and Mykolaiv regions to provide fresh water.

"The hydraulic structures are being eroded and we understand that we will have to build a new station very quickly," Syrota said. "We will build a more beautiful and powerful plant on the same site."

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Floating mines, bacteria in water, dead fish from dam breach: Updates