The collapse of the Nova Kakhovka dam in southern Ukraine has sparked fears of an ecological catastrophe, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky describing the situation as “an environmental bomb of mass destruction.”
Water levels on Wednesday continued to rise after the Russian-occupied dam and hydro-electric power plant was destroyed early Tuesday, forcing more than 1,400 people to flee their homes and threatening vital water supplies as flooding inundated towns, cities and farmland.
Kyiv and Moscow have traded accusations over the dam’s destruction, without providing concrete proof that the other is culpable. It is not yet clear whether the dam was deliberately attacked or whether the breach was the result of structural failure.
Zelensky, however, said Russia bears “criminal liability” and Ukrainian prosecutors are investigating the dam incident as a case of “ecocide.”
“The consequences of the tragedy will be clear in a week. When the water goes away, it will become clear what is left and what will happen next,” he said.
Flooding has also multiplied the dangers in what is already a frontline area of the war, with rising waters potentially moving landmines and other explosives.
Ukrainian rescuers who are trying to reach flooded areas have also been targeted by Russian forces, Zelensky told prominent German outlet Bild in an exclusive interview published Wednesday.
“When our forces try to get them [the residents] out, they are shot at by occupiers from a distance,” Zelensky told Bild.
On Wednesday, a volunteer taking part in local rescue efforts told CNN’s Frederik Pleitgen that volunteers faced Russian shelling on nearly every sortie. “Of course it is extremely dangerous,” said Roman Skabdrakov from the Kaiman Volunteer Group.