Tens of thousands of people have been displaced and the natural world suffered catastrophic damage after the destruction of Nova Kakhovka dam unleashed heavy flooding across southern Ukraine, the country’s energy minister told POLITICO on Wednesday.
German Galushchenko said Russia deliberately destroyed the hydroelectric dam, creating “the largest man-made disaster in Europe in decades.”
“People have lost their homes. The nature, unique ecosystems have suffered irreparable damage. About 20,000 households in the Kherson region are cut off electricity, have limited access to clean food and water,” he said, adding: “It is a war crime and can be qualified as the use of weapons of mass destruction under the Geneva Convention. They must be punished for all their crimes.”
Ukrainian authorities worked through the night on Wednesday to evacuate thousands of people from flood-hit areas of Kherson region, in the south of the country. As many as 16,000 residents in 80 towns and villages close to the Dnipro River are believed to be in the danger zone.
In an address in the early hours of Wednesday morning, Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy said the attack was an attempt at “ecocide,” saying that around 150 tons of oil had contaminated the floodwaters and run off into the Black Sea.
As the scale of the destruction became clear, the International Committee of the Red Cross warned of a “significant” threat to civilians, pointing to protections conferred on dams by international humanitarian law given they can pose a threat to entire populations.
“International humanitarian law can offer crucial protection,” said Ariane Baurer, the ICRC’s Eurasia director, “but only if States respect their legal obligations.”
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