Russia-Ukraine War News: Live Updates
KYIV, Ukraine — As Ukrainian forces battle to advance on the southern port city of Kherson, a hydroelectric dam that holds back a body of water the size of Utah’s Great Salt Lake has emerged as a linchpin in the fight for the region.
The Nova Kakhovka dam, less than 50 miles northeast of Kherson, is the last major crossing over the Dnipro River available to thousands of Russian soldiers fighting around the strategic southern city, which Moscow seized early in the war. If Ukraine were to retake the dam, that could give thousands of Russian soldiers nowhere to retreat. Ukrainian strikes on small bridges over the dam’s spillway have already partly closed the route to vehicle traffic.
If Kyiv takes the dam, Russia’s forces “will have to make a decision very quickly — either very, very quickly leave the city and get out, or risk ending up in the same situation that our units in Mariupol found themselves in earlier,” Gen. Kyrylo O. Budanov, the head of Ukraine’s military intelligence service, said this week. He was referring to the bloody siege in which encircled Ukrainian fighters held out for weeks before being forced to surrender.
Aside from being a military asset, the dam is also a critical piece of infrastructure that even before the war was a flash point. Its reservoir is crucial to the operations of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, about 100 miles upriver, because it provides water necessary for cooling functions.
As Russian positions grew more precarious, Moscow accused Ukraine of planning to destroy the dam — a claim that Ukraine and its Western allies dismissed as absurd. Kyiv has said that it had no incentive to flood its own land and that the Russian accusations, made without evidence, were a sign Moscow was preparing a “false flag” operation to blow up the dam itself, potentially flooding 80 towns, villages and cities, including Kherson.
If Russia were to use the dam to cause flooding downstream, it could slow the Ukrainian advance. However, it also risks causing problems for their own forces on the eastern banks of the Dnipro.
“Russia is consciously laying the groundwork for a large-scale disaster in Ukraine’s south,” President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine warned during an address to the European Council last week.
Analysts note the similarities to Moscow’s unfounded accusations that Ukraine was planning to use a dirty bomb. Ukraine’s Western allies have warned that Russia was making such accusations as a possible pretext to launch its own attack.
Ukrainian soldiers are drawing closer, after liberating 90 villages in the Kherson region since the start of their counteroffensive at the end of August.
On Monday, the Ukrainian military high command reported that two villages less than 50 miles west of Nova Kakhovka — Chkalove and Charivne — had been abandoned by the Russians. And Russian forces have shown signs they may be considering a retreat from the city of Kherson.
Still, Ukrainian officials said it would take time to drive the Russians out.
“We are using the tactics of taking back our villages, meters and kilometers step by step, and we will continue to do that,” Ukraine’s defense minister, Oleksiy Reznikov, said on Wednesday in an interview with Fox News.