Kakhovka Dam in Ukraine Breaks Down: What to Know

The critical dam on the Dnipro River in southern Ukraine split in two late Tuesday, posing a significant risk to the safety of thousands of people living downstream. It's not clear who caused the damage.

Ukrainian officials on Tuesday began evacuating people in the Kherson region as huge volumes of water gushed from the dam's reservoir, with flooding expected to reach dangerous levels within hours.

Video of the dam, in the town of Nova Kakhovka, reviewed by The New York Times does not reveal the cause of the destruction. But they do show large amounts of water flowing freely through the dam, suggesting extensive damage.

Located near the war front in the southern Kherson region, the barrier and nearby infrastructure have been damaged during the war. Last year, Russian troops took control of a dam and a nearby hydroelectric plant. Ukraine now says the power plant is “unrecoverable.”

On Tuesday, Russia and Ukraine blamed each other for the destruction, without providing evidence.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine blamed “Russian terrorists”, while Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry S. Peskov, blamed Ukrainian troops, describing what happened as a “sabotage” attack.

The safety of the dam, the second largest of six dams on the Dnipro River and a vital source of water and electricity, was a constant concern throughout the war, with both sides accusing the other of plotting to destroy it.

Communities along the waterways are at risk of being flooded and washed away. About 16,000 people are in the “critical zone” on the west bank of the Ukrainian-controlled Dnipro River, said Oleksandr Prokudin, regional military administrator.

The east bank of the river, south of the dam, is controlled by Russian forces.

The damage threatens to disrupt the vital services provided by the dam's reservoir. It has provided water for drinking and agriculture.

It also provides water for reactor cooling and spent fuel at the nearby Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, but Ukrainian officials and the UN nuclear watchdog said Tuesday that the facility was not at immediate risk of melting from dam damage.