Russian soldiers may have accidentally blown up the Kakhovka dam in a sabotage stunt gone wrong, according to intercepted transcripts.
Ukraine has released an audio recording of what it says is a conversation between two Russian soldiers that proves Russia blew up the dam.
In it, one of the alleged soldiers said: “They [Ukrainian artillery] didn’t blow it up. Our sabotage group was there. They wanted to scare people with this dam. It didn’t go according to plan.”
The authenticity of the recording could not be verified although it adds evidence to Ukrainian accusations that Russian soldiers blew up the dam three days ago to slow down its counter-offensive.
US intelligence on Friday also said that there was an explosion at the Khakovka dam just before it burst.
Quoting a source in the Biden administration, the New York Times said that satellites equipped with infrared sensors detected a “heat signature” that suggested an explosion just before the dam collapsed.
Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, also accused Russia of blowing up the dam that sent tons of water downstream, wiping out whole towns and villages.
“It was destroyed by explosives installed in the areas where turbines are located. This area is under Russian control,” he said on Spanish TV.
Officials have warned that hundreds of people may be killed in floods and environmentalists said that tons of polluted fresh water pouring into the Black Sea will wreck its fragile saline ecosystem.
The Kremlin, though, has denied that it blew up the Soviet-era Kakhovka dam and blamed Ukraine.
Another theory is that the dam burst because excessive snowmelt and mismanagement of the dam after Russian forces captured it last year had strained it to breaking point.
But Norsar, the Norwegian government’s earthquake monitoring unit, said its seismic data proved there had been an explosion.
“The time and location coincide with reports in the media about the collapse of the Kakhovka dam. The signals indicate that there was an explosion,” it said
Telegram channels have also filled up with accusations that Russian soldiers in areas they control along the east bank of the Dnipro river have prioritised maintaining their defensive positions and ignored pleas to rescue stranded civilians.
Photos from the town of occupied Nova Kakhovka showed people with their pet dogs sheltering on nearly submerged rooftops. Others showed the occupied town of Oleshky, which used to have a population of 24,000 people, destroyed.
It lies around 45 miles downstream from the Kakhovka dam, on the opposite side of the river from Kherson city. The mayor of the town has said that at least nine people had died but volunteers have said that the real death toll could be much higher.