Ukraine blamed Russia for the destruction of a dam on the front lines of the war in Ukraine on Tuesday, threatening a nearby nuclear power plant and hundreds of thousands of people.
The Kremlin, in turn, said Ukraine was responsible for the disaster as water surged through the Kakhovka dam in a Russian-controlled area of the Kherson region.
NBC News has not verified the claims of either side.
Kakhovka dam crisis: The latest updates
- At least 16,000 people had been forced from their homes hours after a vast Ukrainian dam was damaged, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said today.
- The U.S. government has intelligence that is leaning toward Russia as the culprit of the attack, according to two U.S. officials and one Western official.
- Ukrainian authorities have expressed fears that the collapse could threaten the country's supply of drinking water. The country has allocated more than $60 million to address the issue.
Ukraine's state energy company said the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the biggest in Europe, was not at immediate risk, but added that the level of the water it uses to cool its turbines is dropping.
Ukraine allocates over $60 million to restore drinking water following dam destruction
Ukraine has allocated more than $60 million to address the drinking water issue after from the Kakhovka dam destruction, according to Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal.
More than $40 million, or 1.5 Ukranian hryvnia (UAH), was set aside to build two main water pipelines to provide drinking water to the cities of Kryvyi Rih, Nikopol, and Marhanets near the Dnieper River, Shmyhal said.
Additionally, $22.8 million (846 million UAH) was granted to Kherson, Zaporizhzhya and Dnipropetrovsk along the Dnieper and Mykolaiv near the Black Sea to address drinking water needs.
Zelenskyy calls dam blast an 'ecological bomb of mass destruction'
In a Telegram message late Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked rescuers, soldiers and regional governors who rushed into action after the Kakhovka dam was destroyed.
"The authorities at all levels are doing everything to save people and provide drinking water to those who used to receive it from the Kakhovka Reservoir," Zelenskyy said.
He described the dam explosion as a "Russian terrorist attack" and an "ecological bomb of mass destruction." Russian President Vladimir Putin's regime has denied involvement in the incident.
Senior NATO official: Russian actors would stand to benefit from dam destruction
Although it's too early to determine who was responsible for the Kakhovka dam destruction, Russia would stand to benefit from it as opposed to Ukraine, a senior NATO official told NBC News.
The official, who spoke to NBC News on Tuesday on condition of anonymity, also said the break doesn’t seem to be a result of an airstrike.
"It’s just outrageous," the official said. "It’s just another outrageous attack."
State Dept. says U.S. is still assessing situation at dam
The Biden administration is still evaluating what occurred at the dam in Ukraine, State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel said Tuesday.
"As our colleagues at the White House said, we have seen reports that Russia was responsible for the explosion at the dam, which Russian forces took illegally last year, and we have been continuing to monitor. We can’t say conclusively what happened at this point," Patel told reporters at the daily press briefing in Washington.
Patel echoed an earlier White House message and did not definitively say that Russia is responsible for what occurred, adding: "It was in fact Russia that started this war, was Russia that was occupying this area, and it was Russia that was in control of the dam."
Patel said he couldn't say that the breach of the dam was an "explosion" but said U.S. officials are aware of those reports.
Damaged dam upends lives in Kherson
German chancellor releases message of support for Ukraine
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz released a message of support for Ukraine in light of the Kakhovka dam destruction Tuesday.
"The destruction of the #Kachowka dam with the terrible consequences shows a new dimension," he tweeted. "It fits into the way Russia is ruthlessly waging war and joins the many crimes in #Ukraine."
"We support Ukraine for as long as necessary," Scholz said.
U.S. can't 'say conclusively' who was responsible for dam attack, NSC spokesman says
President Joe Biden’s administration “cannot say conclusively” who was responsible for the massive breach at the Kakhovka dam in southern Ukraine, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters at the White House on Tuesday.
“We’re doing the best we can to assess” reports that Russia was the culprit, Kirby told reporters in the White House briefing room.
However, two U.S. officials and one Western official earlier told NBC News that the U.S. has intelligence that is leaning toward Russia as the perpetrator of the attack. U.S. officials were working to declassify some of the intelligence and share it as early as Tuesday afternoon.
Kirby warned that the flooding triggered by the breach could be catastrophic for local communities and the environment. He added that “the destruction could have a devastating impact on Ukraine’s energy security” in part because the dam is near Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.
Dam destruction a 'massive disaster,' expert warns
An immense wall of water engulfing southern Ukraine looks set to have profound consequences for the war and the region itself.
But the Kakhovka dam was so crucial — providing power and drinking water for entire cities and coolant for a nearby nuclear plant — that it may take some time for the scale of the damage wrought by the vast structure’s collapse to become clear.
“It’s a massive disaster,” said Henrik Ölander-Hjalmarsson, CEO and founding partner of the Swedish hydrological modeling company Dämningsverket AB.
Last fall he made a model of what would happen if this dam burst — a wave upward of 12 feet rushing down the river — but this damage “looks much worse” than that, he said, because water levels in the reservoir were already high before Tuesday’s destruction.