THIS, for now, will be my final diary from Ukraine. As I prepare to depart after a month in the country, the war is already escalating into a new and even more dangerous phase.

So much right now is happening on the ground as I have witnessed these past weeks journeying across this vast nation from Kyiv to Kharkiv, the Donbas to Dnipro and beyond.

Over the last few days especially, there have been growing signs that Ukraine is redoubling its efforts to drive out Russian forces.

In the east, fighting along the frontlines there has stepped up considerably, especially around the long-fought-over city of Bakhmut – or rather what’s left of it.

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Meanwhile, in the increasingly “sleepless” capital Kyiv, and in other cities across Ukraine, the civilian population continues to face a terrifying night-time routine of living under Russia’s relentless air assaults.

Almost every day for the past month that I’ve been in the country, the wail of the air raid sirens sends many of the three million or so inhabitants of Kyiv darting into underground car parks, basements, or Metro stations. It’s much the same story elsewhere too.

In fact, this very moment as I write, the siren has gone off again in what is a rare daytime raid. Doubtless this piece will now be completed in the car park below this apartment block waiting for the all-clear.

Kyiv (bleow) alone has suffered 20 air attacks in the past month as Russian ballistic and cruise missiles along with waves of Iranian-made Shahed drones make their way across the country nightly, seeking to wreak havoc.

The raid en route right now – according to monitoring on the various apps people here have on their phones – is a Kinzhal hypersonic aero-ballistic missile.

The National: Police inspect a building damaged by a Russian night attack in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Thursday (Wladyslaw Musiienko/AP)

The only good news is that Ukraine’s new arsenal of air defence systems – including two Patriot interceptor systems donated by the United States, Germany and the Netherlands – have allowed its armed forces to shoot down and destroy most of the drones and missiles hurtling toward its capital.

That said there have been fatalities, children among them. Perhaps one of the most enduring images of my last few weeks here was the sight of a group of terrified schoolchildren running screaming for the bomb shelters as the booming sound of the Kyiv air defence systems attempted to intercept incoming Russian missiles.

At least 535 children have died in the war and at least 1000 have been wounded, according to official figures, mainly in missile and rocket attacks.

But this week also saw the war move into a new vicious realm with the blowing up of the colossal Nova Kakhovka hydroelectric dam in southern Ukraine, draining one of the continent’s largest artificial reservoirs and sending a torrent of water – putting an estimated 42,000 people at risk of flooding and forcing the evacuation of thousands.

That the breaching of the dam has been called a “catastrophe” is unsurprising, for this according to some is Ukraine’s worst environmental disaster since Chornobyl.

While both Russia and Ukraine blame each other for blowing up the dam, few believe Ukraine would have much, if anything, to gain from such a move. In fact, Ukraine has long warned of the danger.

The National: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reacts during a press conference of the Nordic-Ukrainian Summit at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, Wednesday May 3, 2023. Zelenskyy is in the Finnish capital, Helsinki, for a one-day Nordic summit.

Last October, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy (above) actually called on the West to pressure Russia not to blow up the dam, which he said had been rigged with explosives.

“Destroying the dam would mean a large-scale disaster,” he said.

Moscow’s claims that Ukraine is responsible are implausible. While it’s possible that the structure, damaged in previous strikes, could have given way, Russian occupying authorities had allowed the water in the reservoir behind to rise to unusually high levels, which would make it at least a case of criminal neglect. More likely this was deliberate – and Russia does have form in this respect of using flooding as a weapon.

Last September for example, they fired eight cruise missiles at a dam over the nearby Inhulets river, unleashing a flood that hampered the advance of Ukrainian troops in the area.

With Ukrainian forces already engaged in what many see as “shaping the operation” for a full counteroffensive, the destruction of the dam and resulting flooding could narrow the options for similar smaller attacks in the south in support of a major advance elsewhere.

The floodtide inundating the region, for example, will prevent the use of heavy weaponry such as tanks for at least a month.

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It also fits the pattern so evident across much of Ukraine whereby Russia has sought to totally devastate the country’s infrastructure. Right now, the scenes from the south of the country in areas already devastated by the war are appalling.

For not only did the dam provide electricity and drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people in Ukraine the resultant flooding has already submerged villages and towns around the city of Kherson. Ukrainian authorities said 17,000 people were being evacuated from Ukrainian-held territory and a total of 24 villages had been flooded.

UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs Martin Griffiths told the Security Council that the full “magnitude of the catastrophe” will only become fully realised in the coming days.

Then there is the fact that the dam’s vast reservoir also supplies the cooling waters for Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia. The good news on that front at least say the UN nuclear watchdog is that alternative sources of water could supply the facility for months if necessary.

Accusing Russia of “ecocide”, Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said the flooding would bring irreversible harm to the area. What’s equally certain is that has pushed the war into uncharted territory.

In the past month that I’ve been here, one of many visits since the war began, it’s hard not to get the sense that this conflict has the frightening capacity to escalate in almost any direction.

As I leave Ukraine, I have little doubt that I will be back again soon, for this conflict is far from over and the coming months could prove very crucial indeed.

As I depart Kyiv, I do so with thoughts for my Ukrainian friends and colleagues who remain behind. For them, there is no respite from this bitter war, and many have been touched by it in the most tragic way. I wish them well until I see them again on my return.

Oh, and for now, the air raid alert is over, a false alarm this time it seems. Though that unfortunately will likely not last for long.