China urges protection of civilians, vital infrastructure as Moscow, Kyiv blame each other
Rescue workers attempt to tow boats carrying residents being evacuated from a flooded neighborhood in Kherson, Ukraine, on June 6. The wall of a major dam in southern Ukraine collapsed that day, triggering floods, endangering Europe’s largest nuclear power plant and threatening drinking water supplies. (PHOTO / AP)
UNITED NATIONS — China has voiced grave concern over the destruction of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant dam in southern Ukraine, as Moscow and Kyiv have accused each other of ripping a gaping hole in the vital infrastructural facility.
Severe flooding took place following the collapse of the dam, which is located on the front line and provides cooling water for the Zaporizhzhia power plant, Europe’s largest nuclear power station. Thousands of people have been evacuated after an attack ripped wide open the dam on the Dnipro River and unleashed a torrent of water, inundating dozens of villages and sparking fears of grave and far-reaching consequences.
The protection of civilians and critical civilian facilities in armed conflict is an important principle enshrined in international humanitarian law, Zhang Jun, China’s permanent representative to the United Nations, said on June 6.
“We express our grave concern over the destruction of the dam at the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant. We are deeply concerned about the resulting humanitarian, economic, and ecological consequences. We call on all parties to the conflict to abide by international humanitarian law and do their utmost to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure,” he said.
China supports the active efforts by the UN and humanitarian agencies to help evacuate the affected people, followed by further assistance, Zhang told an emergency meeting of the Security Council.
A great number of people are in urgent need of evacuation and tens of thousands of people may face difficulties in accessing drinking water.
A state of emergency has been imposed in Kherson, Russia’s TASS state news agency reported on June 7. Citing emergency services, the report said that about 2,700 houses were flooded after the destruction of the dam and about 1,500 people had been evacuated by June 7. At least seven people were missing, officials were quoted as saying.
Representatives from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, as well as five UN agencies and some nongovernmental organizations, were on the ground to conduct the assessment, said Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned that the destruction of the dam will likely impact food security. The UN and humanitarian partners are working nonstop to provide affected communities with the assistance they urgently need. On June 6, they distributed nearly 12,000 bottles of water, more than 1,700 kits with essential supplies for children on the move, and 10,000 water purification tablets to five municipalities in Kherson and the city of Mykolaiv, an FAO spokesman said.
In a statement on June 6, the Russian foreign ministry strongly condemned the destruction of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant dam “by the armed forces of Ukraine”, calling on the international community “to condemn the criminal acts of the Ukrainian authorities”.
Earlier that day, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russian forces had destroyed the dam. According to Ukraine’s state-run nuclear energy operator Energoatom, the destruction of the dam may have negative consequences for the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the attack “another devastating consequence” of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths on June 6 warned of the grave consequences of the destruction of the dam, describing it as possibly the most significant incident of damage to civilian infrastructure since the start of the Russia-Ukraine conflict in February 2022.
The reservoir, formed by the dam, is a major source of cooling water for the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. China noted that the International Atomic Energy Agency has confirmed that the dam’s destruction has not posed any safety risk to the nuclear power plant. However, as the water in the reservoir continues to recede, it may not be possible to continue pumping water to the nuclear power plant in the future.
The director of the plant, Yuri Chernichuk, said water levels in the cooling pond had not changed and “at the moment, there is no security threat” to the nuclear power plant.
In another development, Russia said on June 7 that “Ukrainian saboteurs” had in the previous day blown up a section of the Togliatti-Odessa ammonia pipeline, which carries fertilizer from Russia to Ukraine, in Kharkiv region.