Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy referred to the collapse of the Kakhovka dam in southern Ukraine as "mass environmental destruction" and stated that the attack on such vital infrastructure would not alter Ukraine's plans to reclaim territory from Russian occupying forces.
Zelenskyy stated on Tuesday that the dam was blown up in an attempt to "use the flood as a weapon" against Ukrainian forces, describing the detonation that destroyed it as a deliberate and chaotic act by Russia.
Zelenskyy stated in his nocturnal address that Moscow was resigned to losing control of the Russian-annexed Crimea and had therefore destroyed the region's water supply.
"The fact that Russia deliberately destroyed the Kakhovka reservoir, which is crucial for supplying water to Crimea, indicates that the Russian occupiers have already realized that they will also have to leave Crimea," he said.
"We will still liberate all of our lands," Zelenskyy said, adding that destroying the dam would not prevent a Russian defeat but would add to the post-war reparations that Moscow will one day have to pay Ukraine.
Tuesday, the Kremlin blamed Ukraine for the dam's collapse, claiming that Kyiv had devastated the site to divert attention from the faltering launch of its counteroffensive, which Moscow had already neutralized.
Sergei Shoigu, the Russian minister of defense, stated that his forces had thwarted the initial three days of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, during which thousands of Ukrainian soldiers were killed or disabled. He stated that the decision to eliminate the dam was made to slow down the advancing Russian forces.
Neither Moscow nor Kyiv offered evidence to support their claims regarding the devastation of the dam.
In the middle of a conflict zone and as Ukraine prepares for its long-awaited counteroffensive, the dam's collapse poses a new humanitarian crisis.
'Grave And Far-Reaching Consequences'
Charles Stratford of Al Jazeera reported from the reservoir in the Zaporizhia region of Ukraine that, before its devastation, the dam provided electricity and drinking water to hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians.
"According to the locals we've spoken with here, the water level has dropped between one and two meters today, and we expect the level to continue falling in the coming hours and days," Stratford said. "One can only imagine the devastation this is causing in the areas south of the dam."
Ihor Syrota, the head of Ukraine's hydroelectric power authority, told the U.S.-funded radio station Donbas Realii that flooding had caused the water levels to rise by 3.5 meters (11.5 feet) and that Ukrainian officials anticipate that the flood waters will peak on Wednesday and begin to recede within three to five days.
The inundation has already submerged villages and towns surrounding the city of Kherson, and Russian officials have warned that the principal canal supplying water to the Russian-annexed portion of the Crimean peninsula is receiving a significant decrease in water.
According to Ukrainian authorities, 17,000 people are being evacuated from Ukrainian-held territory, and 24 communities have been flooded.
"Over 40,000 people are in danger of being flooded," Ukraine's Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin stated, adding that an additional 25,000 people should be evacuated from the most vulnerable areas on the Russian-occupied side of the Dnipro River.
Vladimir Leontyev, the Moscow-appointed mayor of Nova Kakhovka, where the dam is located, stated that the city was submerged and that hundreds of residents were evacuated.
According to the United Nations, at least 16,000 people have already lost their residences, and efforts are underway to provide them with clean water, money, and legal and emotional support. People on the side of the river under Ukrainian control were evacuated via ferries to western communities such as Mykolaiv and Odesa.
Martin Griffiths, the Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs at the United Nations, told the Security Council on Tuesday that "the magnitude of the catastrophe" will not become completely apparent for several days.
Griffiths stated, "However, it is already evident that it will have grave and far-reaching consequences for thousands of people in southern Ukraine – on both sides of the front line – through the loss of homes, food, clean water, and means of subsistence."
During an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on Tuesday, Russia and Ukraine traded responsibility for the disaster.
James Bays, the diplomatic editor for Al Jazeera, reported from the United Nations headquarters in New York that the Russian and Ukrainian ambassadors at the council meeting gave "completely different accounts of what happened" to the dam.
Bays stated that the Russian ambassador asserted that Ukraine had previously posed threats to the dam and that Ukraine countered that it was located in territory controlled by Russian forces and that only a mine could have devastated it, not an attack from a distance.
"These are the clear positions of the two sides, and you need someone to investigate which of these two contradictory accounts is accurate." "I don't see that happening in the near future," Bays stated, emphasizing that the dam remains a military front line.
On Tuesday, the interior minister of Ukraine reported that Russia had shelled areas from which people were being evacuated from the dam's floodwaters and that two police officers had been injured.
Ben Barry, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, stated that Moscow would benefit immediately from the dam's breach.
"Given that Russia is on the strategic defensive and Ukraine is on the strategic offensive, Russia has an advantage in the short term," Barry said.
"Until the water recedes, it will aid the Russians because it makes it more difficult for the Ukrainians to cross the river," he said.
Maciej Matysiak, a security expert at the Stratpoints Foundation and former deputy chief of Polish military counterintelligence, stated that the region's inundation by floodwaters would also prohibit heavy weaponry such as tanks for at least a month.
Matysiak stated, "This creates an excellent defensive position for Russians anticipating Ukrainian offensive activity."