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Apr 18, 2023Apr 18, 2023

Thousands are fleeing floods caused by a breach in a dam in Russian-occupied Ukraine. The UN aid chief warned of "grave and far-reaching consequences" for people in southern Ukraine - as both sides continue to blame each other.

Wednesday 7 June 2023 17:08, UK

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More on the Zaporizhzhia power plant now, as the head of the UN's nuclear watchdog warns the burst Kakhovka dam poses "a danger" to Europe's largest nuclear plant.

Rafael Grossi has told Sky News there "is a risk" the facility could be left without "essential" water needed to cool its six reactors, which is supplied by the Kakhovka reservoir and ponds.

In a worst case scenario, without cooling "you would be risking a nuclear meltdown in there with tragic ecological consequences", he said.

"Certainly there is a danger, perhaps in a few weeks or a month, but something needs to be done," said Dr Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"We don't want to create panic here but it is a serious situation because normally you would need to have a guaranteed amount of water circulated in those reactors.

"If you start losing this ability then you're going to have a problem. The problem may be pushed down the line a few days or weeks, but the problem is going to be there."

Dr Grossi said he intends to visit the plant next week to assess the situation, adding the behaviour of the river in the next few days will determine the overall impact on the plant.

Radiation levels at theZaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southeast Ukraine arenormal, according to Russian state-owned media.

The RIA cited Russia's federal medical-biological agency as saying the radiation levels were being monitored on a daily basis.

Concerns were raised over the impact of the dam breach on the plant because the flooding reservoir supplies water that cools the plant's reactors and nuclear waste.

But the UN's nuclear watchdog said the facility should have enough water to coolits reactors for "some months" from a separate pond.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian emergency workers wearing radiation protection suits attended training in Zaporizhzhia today.

The destruction of the Kakhovkadam could turn 500,000hectares of land left without irrigation into "deserts", theagriculture ministry said.

Ukraine, a major producer and exporter of grain, hasaccused Moscow of committing a war crime by blowing up theSoviet-era dam.

The Kremlin blames the collapse on Kyiv.

"The destruction of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power stationwill lead to the fact that fields in the south of Ukraine mayturn into deserts next year," the agriculture ministry said.

Ukraine has 33 million hectares of farmland, according tothe World Bank, so nearly 2% of that area may be under threat.

The ministry said yesterday the disaster would cut off water supply to 31 irrigationsystems in the regions of Dnipro, Kherson andZaporizhzhia.

An Air India plane flying from New Delhi to San Francisco was diverted to Russia after it developed an engine problem.

The plane, a Boeing 777 carrying 216 passengers and 16 crew members, landed safely at Magadan airport in Siberia in the country's far east on yesterday, Air India said in a statement.

The flight developed a technical issue with one of its engines and the aircraft is now undergoing safety checks and the passengers have been provided support on the ground.

The airline said later Wednesday that a replacement aircraft had taken off from Mumbai and was flying to Magadan so the stranded passengers could continue their journey to America.

The aircraft will take the passengers to San Francisco on Thursday, the airline said.

Vedant Patel, a US State Department spokesperson, said American citizens were likely on the flight but could not immediately confirm how many.

Passengers on board the flight said that they were not allowed to leave the hostel they were being put up in and that their credit cards wouldn't work, owing to the sanctions against Russia.

Water levels are expected to rise by another metre in the next 12 hours, Ukraine's ministry of health has said.

Dead bodies, chemicals, landfills and toilets may contaminate the floodwaters and wells, it added.

The ministry warned residents of Kherson that causative agents of infectious diseases present from corpses may be present in the water due to the flooding of cemeteries.

Russia shelled the state medical service building in Kherson overnight, it added.

The Kherson Regional Centre for Emergency Medical Aid and Disaster Medicine rescued 22 people overnight, among them residents with chronic diseases in need of medical assistance.

Vladimir Putin has called the destruction of the Kakhovka dam an "environmental andhumanitarian catastrophe", according to the Kremlin.

The Russian president made the statement during a call with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, today.

Mr Erdogan also spoke to Volodymyr Zelenskyy on a separate phone call, telling him that an international commission could be set up to investigate the dam collapse.

During the conversation, the Ukrainian president branded the incident a "Russian act of terrorism" and said he "handed over a list of Ukraine's urgent needs to eliminate the disaster".

Significantly more people are affected by flooding on the Russian-controlled side than in Ukrainian-held territory, according to our security and defence analyst Michael Clarke.

More than 25,000 on the Russian side will have to be evacuated, compared to around 15,000 on the Ukrainian side.

Discussing the political fallout, Clarke said that there had been "lots of condemnation", describing it as "clearly a war crime".

He added: "Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, who is normally very cautions about these things, said yesterday that it was of course the Russians, as did Charles Michel of the European Council and the British foreign secretary, James Cleverly.

"There is some military logic in it from the Russian point of view, but the humanitarian problem it creates makes that completely disproportionate."

Available evidence, reasoning and rhetoric suggests Russia "deliberately damaged" the dam, according to military experts.

The Institute for the Study of War said it cannot definitively conclude who or what caused the breach, but several Russian explanations were "implausible" and Moscow had more to gain.

Russian sources have "expressed intense and explicit concern" over Ukraine crossing the Dnipro river, and flooding it would widen the waterway, making this more difficult, the US-based thinktank said.

Ukrainian positions near the shoreline were washed away and soldiers were forced to evacuate while under Russian artillery fire, according to ISW assessments of footage captured yesterday.

Some Russian formations on the east bank may have been caught off guard by the flooding, but "Ukraine has no material interest in blowing the dam", said the ISW.

It called claims made by Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov - that Ukraine sabotaged the dam because its army was not achieving their counteroffensive goals - "implausible".

"Ukrainian forces have not yet conducted large-scale offensive operations," the ISW said, echoing a senior Ukrainian official today.

Russia's defence minister said Ukrainian forces were relocating from Kherson to support "failing" offensive actions elsewhere and blew the dam to reinforce Kherson defences, but the ISW said this too was "implausible" because Russian forces in Kherson "pose no meaningful threat".

Nonetheless, no "clear evidence" has yet become available, and the possibility remains that pre-existing structural damage caused the breakage, notwithstanding reports of explosions, according to the thinktank.

Move the slider across the image below to see the difference in the flow of water after the dam was breached.

Three clear breaches in the dam wall can be seen in the second image, with the water flowing out changing from a comparative trickle to a torrent.

The Soviet era Kakhovka Reservoir was built in 1956 and, at its fullest, can hold more than 18 square kilometres of water.

A Putin ally has said the UK, US and their NATO allies must "bear responsibility" for the destruction of the Kakhovka dam.

Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Russian Security Council, said the countries were "coordinating Ukraine'sactivities" and therefore "gave consent to the bombing".

Despite accusing Ukraine of shelling the dam, Russian officials have not provided any evidence, and experts say artillery shells could not breach a dam of this magnitude.

Ukraine has accused Russia of blowing up the 100ft structure, also without definitive evidence, but experts believe Russia has much more to gain from the floods - with defence analyst Michael Clarke going as far as to say he is "absolutely certain" Russia was behind the breach.

The Institute for the Study of War pointed to the cover it could provide any retreating Russian forces in the Kherson region and the impediment flooding would create for the Ukrainian counteroffensive.