Pokhrovsk, Ukraine — Russian forces blew up a dam on a river in eastern Ukraine, raising the water level, in what Ukraine’s military said Friday was an attempt to flood its supply lines downstream.
Thursday afternoon’s missile attack on the airlock of the Karlivka dam in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region marked the tactic of using flooding in the 15-month war. The rivers that criss-cross Ukraine present few natural barriers between Russian and Ukrainian forces, and both sides have tried to block advances or target the other’s pontoon bridges.
Video footage shared on the Telegram messaging app by Pavlo Kyrilenko, the head of Ukraine’s military administration in the region, showed floodwaters gushing from the destroyed dam. He said local authorities had evacuated 26 people from their homes and a flood warning had been issued for villages downstream of the Vovsa River.
Russian forces have “continuously bombarded” the dam for months, Mr. Kyrilenko wrote in Telegram.
“The public will be primarily affected by these measures,” he said.
Flooding flooded the area of active Ukrainian military operations near the front line. The army closed the lower part of the dam for safety reasons.
“Russia is predictable in its actions,” Major. Serhiy Tsekhotsky, a spokesman for Ukraine’s 59th brigade operating in the area, said in an interview. “They keep doing the same thing over and over again.”
Both Ukraine and Russia used the rivers and their crossings to block the other side’s advances throughout the war.
In the first days of the war, the Ukrainian army blew up the gates of a dam to flood the Irbin River valley north of Kiev, blocking a route for Russian tank columns into the capital and buying time to prepare defenses, but flooding many. Dozens of houses in the area.
Last September, Russian forces fired missiles at a dam near the city of Kryvyi Rih in central Ukraine in what Ukrainian officials said was an attempt to remove Ukrainian military pontoon crossings downstream of the Ingulets River. Ukraine needed pontoon crossings, which were bombarded by Russian artillery and aerial bombardment, and a counterattack eventually succeeded in driving Russian forces out of the city of Kherson.
Demonstrating the dam’s value as a military target, Russia fired seven of its sophisticated Iskander and Kinsel rockets at the floodgates. But only one of the two airlocks was damaged, local officials said at the time, and the strike gradually opened up water from a reservoir rather than destroying both.
The pontoon crossings below were not affected, but the water level of the Ingulets River rose two meters and inundated neighborhoods in Grivy Rih.
The Ukrainian government has repeatedly warned of the risk of Russia detonating a large hydroelectric dam on the Dnipro River to divert water from the Khakovka Reservoir. Ukrainian officials say the goal of such a strike would be to flood riverside communities and Ukrainian military bases downstream or create an emergency at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which draws cooling water from the reservoir.
According to Ukrainian officials, Russian forces occupying the east bank of the river at the site of the Khakovka dam and controlling the floodgates are already manipulating the reservoir’s water level for unclear reasons.
During the winter, the reservoir’s water level dropped to its lowest level in four decades, depriving Ukrainian cities of upstream water supplies. During a period of heavy snowmelt in the spring, Russia’s military allowed water to accumulate to levels that Ukrainian officials said endangered the dam’s integrity.
Altimetry data – which uses satellites to measure elevation – was released last week by French geodata provider Tia, indicating that water levels in the reservoir have reached a 30-year high, increasing the likelihood of flooding in the area and indicating a lack of regulation.
— Andrew E. Kramer And Maria Varennikova