KHERSON, Ukraine (AP) — A major dam in southern Ukraine collapsed Tuesday, flooding villages, endangering crops and threatening drinking water supplies as both sides in the war scrambled to evacuate residents and blamed each other for the destruction.
Ukraine accused Russian forces of blowing up the Kakhovka dam and hydroelectric power station, which sits on the Dnieper River in an area Moscow has controlled for more than a year. Russian officials blamed Ukrainian bombardment in the contested area, where the river separates the two sides.
It was not possible to reconcile the conflicting claims.
Russian and Ukrainian officials used terms like “ecological disaster” and “terrorist act” to describe the torrent of water gushing through the broken dam and beginning to empty an upstream reservoir that is one of the world’s largest.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called it “the largest man-made environmental disaster in Europe in decades.” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called it “another devastating consequence of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.”
As homes, streets and businesses flooded, authorities expressed concerns about drinking water supplies and emergency crews evacuated thousands of people from Ukrainian and Russian-controlled areas.
In the downstream city of Kherson, angry residents cursed as they tried to preserve their pets and belongings. A woman who gave her name only as Tetyana waded through thigh-deep water to reach her flooded house and rescue her dogs. They were standing on any dry surface they could find but one pregnant dog was missing. “It’s a nightmare,” she kept repeating, declining to give her full name.
Both Russian and Ukrainian authorities brought in trains and buses to move residents to safety. About 25,000 people in Russian-controlled areas and 17,000 in Ukrainian-held territory should be evacuated, Ukraine’s deputy chief prosecutor Viktoriia Lytvynova said on Ukrainian television. Neither side reported any deaths or injuries.
A satellite photo Tuesday morning by Planet Labs PBC analyzed by The Associated Press showed more than 600 meters (over 1,900 feet) missing from the wall of the 1950s-era dam.
The dam break, which both sides long feared, added a stunning new dimension to Russia’s war, now in its 16th month. Ukrainian forces were widely seen to be moving forward with a long-anticipated counteroffensive in patches along more than 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) of front line in the east and south.
It was not immediately clear why either side might destroy the dam, and its collapse might have resulted from gradual degradation. Both Russian-controlled and Ukrainian-held lands were at risk.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu charged that Ukraine destroyed the dam to prevent Russian attacks in the Kherson region after what he alleged was a failed Ukrainian counteroffensive. He claimed Ukraine had lost 3,715 troops and 52 tanks since Sunday, and — in a rare acknowledgment of Russia’s own losses — said 71 Russian troops were killed and 210 wounded. Ukraine followed its standard practice of not commenting on its casualties.
Zelenskyy told reporters his government knew last…