Ukraine has accused Russian forces of blowing up a major dam and hydroelectric power station in a part of southern Ukraine that Russia controls, sending water gushing from the breached facility and risking massive flooding.
Ukrainian authorities have ordered hundreds of thousands of residents downriver to evacuate.
Russian officials say the Kakhovka dam was damaged by Ukrainian military strikes in the contested area.
Ukrainian authorities have previously said the failure of the Kakhovka dam could unleash 4.8 billion gallons of water and flood Kherson and dozens of other areas downriver where hundreds of thousands of people live, as well as threatening a nearby Russian-occupied nuclear power station.
Ukraine’s nuclear operator Energoatom said in a Telegram statement that the blowing up of the dam “could have negative consequences for the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant” but at the moment situation is “controllable”.
The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on Twitter its experts are closely monitoring the situation at the power station upstream and there is “no immediate nuclear safety risk” at the facility.
According to the Ukraine War Environmental Consequences Working Group, a total collapse of the dam would wash away much of the left bank and a severe drop in the reservoir has the potential to deprive the nuclear power station of crucial cooling, as well as dry up the water supply in northern Crimea.
President Volodymyr Zelensky called an emergency meeting to deal with the crisis, Ukrainian officials said.
The Ukrainian Interior Ministry said on Telegram the Kakhovka dam had been blown up and called for residents of 10 villages on the river’s right bank and parts of the city of Kherson downriver to gather essential documents and pets, turn off appliances and leave – while cautioning against possible disinformation.
The Russian-installed mayor of Nova Kakhovka, Vladimir Leontyev, said on Tuesday that numerous strikes on the Kakhovka hydroelectric plant destroyed its valves and “water from the Kakhovka reservoir began to uncontrollably flow downstream”.
Mr Leontyev said the strikes were “a very serious terrorist act” and Moscow-appointed authorities are “preparing for the worst consequences” — though he stopped short of urging an evacuation of city residents.
Dmytro Kuleba, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, reiterated his comments, saying Russia inflicted “probably Europe’s largest technological disaster in decades”.
“The only way to stop Russia, the greatest terrorist of the 21st century, is to kick it out of Ukraine.”