KRYVYI RIH, Ukraine — At first, she heard terrible explosions. Then the tap water gurgling from her faucets turned dirty. And when Inna Tsvitkova, an out-of-work entrepreneur, left her apartment in Kryvyi Rih on Wednesday evening, she watched the swollen river right outside her door carry away tree branches and rubble.
Russian forces had fired a cruise missile into a major dam in her city, sending millions of gallons of water gushing downstream.
“It was terrifying,” she said late Wednesday night. “I thought that in the morning, I would step outside and fall into the water.”
By Thursday morning, the waters had begun to recede, bringing relief to a city of more than half a million people. Officials said catastrophe had been narrowly avoided. The cruise missile had damaged the dam but did not leave a major hole. Officials said the flooding had slowed. Many people who had fled their homes were returning.
The bigger worry remained, however. As the Ukrainian military presses on with its offensive to drive Russians out of its territory, the Russians have responded with withering attacks on vital infrastructure.
This week, the Russians blasted power plants in Kharkiv, knocking out power to large swaths of Ukraine’s second biggest city. And overnight, Ukrainian authorities reported more strikes on infrastructure in the Zaporizhzhia and Dnipro regions.
President Volodymyr Zelensky did not contain his anger. “History is written by people, never by savages,” he said in an address Thursday morning.
The dam in Kryvyi Rih had “no military value at all,” he said, calling the Russians “scoundrels” and “weaklings.”
The strike on the dam, on the strategic Inhulets River, could have been a disaster for civilians in the city but it also likely served a military purpose, Ukrainian officials said.
“The Kryvyi Rih dam missile strike was an attempt to stop the Ukrainian offensive in Kherson by flooding the Inhulets River and destroying Ukrainian pontoons,” said Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to the Ukrainian president.
The Ukrainian military has been hastily building lightweight pontoon bridges to cross the Inhulets River. Some military strategists and Ukrainian officials believed the Russians had targeted the dam to cause a flood and wash out the Ukrainian bridges.
The ongoing offensive in Ukraine’s south is concentrated on land controlled by Russia west of the Dnipro River, which bisects Ukraine from north to south. Unlike the surprise assault in the northeast last week, Ukraine heavily telegraphed its southern offensive weeks in advance by pounding Russian supply lines and critical river crossings in an attempt to trap Russian soldiers on the west bank of the river.
Officials in Kryvyi Rih were still assessing the full extent of damage to the dam on Thursday. The 200-meter long structure holds back almost 300 million tons of a water in a yawning reservoir. It was created in Soviet times to supply the mining and metallurgical enterprises of this heavily industrialized area.
On Thursday morning, three soldiers watched the gushing water in silence. Small groups of people walked along the river banks, shooting photos of the swollen river on their phones.