Kakhovka dam: drone appears to show 'car filled with explosives' on Ukrainian dam before deadly collapse
Thousands of people have fled their homes on both the Russian and Ukrainian-controlled sides of the Dnipro River after the dam collapse
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Photos taken by a drone appear to have snapped a car filled with explosives on a Ukrainian dam shortly before a collapse which has triggered a humanitarian disaster - while the UN has criticised Russia for allegedly not letting aid workers into affected areas.
The Kakhovka dam was destroyed on Tuesday 6 June, with Ukraine laying the blame at the door of Russia. However, Moscow has denied that it was involved with any attack on the hydroelectric dam, instead insisting that Ukrainian military strikes in the area are to blame.
Western leaders have also laid the blame for the damage at Russia's door. UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly was among the Western officials claiming that the Kremlin had potentially committed a war crime after the dam collapsed.
Thousands people have fled towns and villages which were consequently flooded after the dam was destroyed, and at least 50 people have been killed. The flooding has also threatened drinking water and power supplies, and caused an environmental calamity as the war approaches the 16-month mark.
On Monday (19 June), the Associated Press reported drone footage taken from above the Kakhovka Dam before its collapse appeared to show a battered white car filled with explosives, parked on top of the structure.
A senior Ukrainian special forces official told the outlet a car bomb alone would not have had enough power to bring the dam down, but that it may have damaged the top of it - amplifying what they believe was the main explosion in a machine room. Russian troops were also noted to be stationed in the area Ukraine say the explosion originated, AP reports.
The Kakhovka dam and reservoir were responsible for the supply of drinking water and irrigation for huge parts of southern Ukraine. The dam also supplies the Crimean Peninsula, which has been annexed by Russia since 2014.
The United Nations (UN) has rebuked Moscow for allegedly denying its aid workers access to Russian-occupied areas affected by the dam collapse. The UN humanitarian coordinator for Ukraine, Denise Brown, said the organisation has engaged with Moscow and Kyiv, each of which occupies parts of the southern Kherson region where the dam and reservoir are located, to address the “devastating destruction” caused by the breach.
The Russian government “has so far declined our request to access the areas under its temporary military control”, Ms Brown said. “We urge the Russian authorities to act in accordance with their obligations under international humanitarian law,” she added.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not explicitly admit that Russia had blocked UN access, but told a conference call with reporters that Ukrainian attacks made any such visit too risky. “There has been constant shelling, constant provocations, civilian facilities and the civilian population have come under fire, people have died, so it’s really difficult to ensure their security."
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky previously said that he had met with officials to discuss “urgent provision of drinking water and long-term solutions for settlements that were dependent on the reservoir”, as well as eventually assessing the damage to property and the environment and reaching out to international aid organisations. He also hit out at Moscow for its slow response to the disaster in Russian-controlled areas.
Russia has said that it has evacuated 1,300 people in the region, however reports suggest that 40,000 people could be affected by the floods. Similar numbers have been reported by Ukraine, with 1,700 directly evacuated by authorities, with a possible 42,000 people affected in Ukrainian-controlled areas.
Residents in Kherson were seen clutching personal belongings as they fled the floodwaters, which in some areas were knee-deep. The Russian-controlled city of Nova Kakhovska was seen submerged in water in aerial footage, while some villagers in the village of Oleshky reported to be stranded by Russian news outlet Vyorstka.
While the cause of the collapse is currently unconfirmed, the Washington-based think tank Institute for the Study of War (ISW), stated that Russia would have “a greater and clearer interest in flooding the lower Dnieper [Dnipro] despite the damage to their own prepared defensive positions”. It added that the expected Ukrainian counter-offensive may have also added to possible reasons Moscow would target the dam, in order to divert attention and operation to the region.
However, it was also revealed that the dam itself was in a poor state of disrepair and was vulnerable to collapse before it was damaged. According to officials, it had not been producing power since November.