Rescue workers evacuate an elderly resident from a flooded neighborhood in Kherson, Ukraine, Thursday, June 8, 2023. Flood waters from a collapsed dam rose steadily in southern Ukraine on Thursday, forcing hundreds of people to flee their homes in a major emergency operation that has brought a dramatic new dimension to the war with Russia, now in its 16th month. – PA
Russian forces shelled a town in southern Ukraine swamped by floods during a catastrophic dam collapse, Ukrainian officials said, forcing the suspension of some rescue efforts hours after President Volodymyr Zelenskyy traveled to the area to assess the damage.
Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of shelling rescuers and evacuees in the flood-hit Kherson region, as Moscow said its forces repelled a Ukrainian offensive in another part of the line of defense. forehead.
Emergency services were still rushing to rescue people stranded by the swollen waters of the Dnipro River, which forced thousands to flee.
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The destruction of a major Russian-held dam on the river on Tuesday left 600 square kilometers of the region under water.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the region on Thursday after floods inundated dozens of villages and neighborhoods in the regional capital, Kherson.
“I thank the rescuers and the volunteers! I thank everyone involved in this work! wrote Zelensky, who also visited survivors in the hospital.
Shortly after the visit, Kiev said Russian strikes in central Kherson and the surrounding area killed one person and injured 18 others, including emergency service personnel.
Authorities in Moscow across the Dnipro River, which is controlled by Russian forces, said two evacuees were killed by Ukrainian shelling.
The death toll from the floods reached six as the Moscow-backed administration of Nova Kakhovka, where the dam is located, said five people had died and 41 were admitted to hospital.
Ukrainian police said a man had died in a riverside village in the nearby Mykolaiv region, also affected by the rising waters.
US President Joe Biden said Washington would provide long-term military support to Kiev “as long as it takes”, while the Netherlands said it was sending rescue boats and water pumps.
Two hour battle
In nearby Zaporizhzhia region, Russia said its forces fought a two-hour battle with Ukrainian troops in the early hours of Thursday.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the Ukrainian offensive involved 1,500 troops and 150 armored vehicles.
“The enemy was stopped and withdrew after heavy losses,” he said.
Ukrainian officials said their forces were ready for a long-awaited counteroffensive, but there would be no official announcement when it would begin.
Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Ganna Maliar said only that Russia was carrying out “defensive actions” near the town of Orikhiv in the Zaporizhzhia region.
In a separate development, Ukrainian authorities said water levels in a reservoir that was created by the Kahovka dam had fallen “below the critical point of 12.7 meters (42 feet)”. This meant that the reservoir was no longer able to supply households and the cooling ponds of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe.
However, on Thursday evening, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said the nuclear power plant continued to receive water from the reservoir after the dam was damaged.
The plant’s six reactors have been shut down but they still need cooling water to ensure there won’t be a nuclear disaster.
Ukraine meanwhile called on Europe to double its power supplies to two gigawatts.
“Still people in there”
In the Kherson region, Ukrainian rescuers said they ventured into areas under Russian control to rescue civilians despite the danger.
The area is the estuary of the Dnipro River and is dotted with islands and swamps where the precise location of the front line is sometimes unclear.
Ukrainian authorities said 30 settlements had been flooded, 10 of which are in Russian-controlled territory on the eastern bank of the Dnipro.
Rescuers used boats and amphibious vehicles to extract people from flooded areas. Some volunteers also came out to rescue stranded animals and birds.
One woman, Tetiana Omelchenko, 65, said she waited two days to be evacuated from her building in Kherson and had to climb through a broken window to reach a lifeboat.
“In my building, the water has reached the third floor and there are still people in there,” she said.
In Brussels on Thursday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg urged members of the alliance to speed up humanitarian aid to Ukraine after the destruction of the dam.
The World Health Organization has issued a dire warning. “The impact on the region’s water supply, sanitation systems and public health services cannot be underestimated,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters.
“WHO has rushed to support authorities and health workers in preventive measures against waterborne diseases and to improve disease surveillance,” he said.
Ukraine accuses Russia, whose forces control the dam area, of blowing up the dam, while Russia accuses Ukraine of hitting it with artillery.
Ukrhydroenergo, the operator of the dam, said it was most likely operated from within. The emergency service warned that floodwaters have dislodged landmines which pose a threat to civilians.
The government has also sounded the alarm over the environmental impact, calling it a “crime of ecocide”.
A Greenpeace activist in Kyiv, Denys Tsutsaiev, warned that some species could take a decade to recover from the disaster and others may not recover at all. According to the latest information, “at least 500 tonnes of oil have been released due to the destruction of the dam”, the activist said, posing a threat to marine mammals and birds.
With contributions from agencies
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