Evacuations and rescue operations in southern Ukraine continued on Wednesday after the destruction of the Kakhovka Dam sent a torrent of water rushing through dozens of towns along the war zone’s southern frontline.
Ukrainian officials said about 42,000 people on both sides of the Dnipro river, which bisects government-controlled and Russian-occupied territory, were affected by the catastrophe and warned civilians to be wary of landmines that had been swept downstream.
“Be extremely careful, remember the rules of mine safety! Do not approach or touch explosive objects under any circumstances!” the country’s state emergency service said in a message shared on social media.
Oleksandr Prokudin, head of the Kherson regional administration, said the intensity of the flooding was decreasing but “due to the significant destruction of the dam, water will continue to rush downstream”.
The flood water is expected to peak on Wednesday.
Prokudin said 1,852 houses had been flooded on the western bank of the river, which remains under Ukrainian control, and 1,457 people had been evacuated.
Police officials said evacuations were complicated by flooded roads and highways in the area.
On the other side of the river, Russian-installed officials said water levels appeared to be receding on Wednesday in Nova Kakhovka, a town seized by Russian forces last year.
Located next to the dam, the small town had been swiftly engulfed by flood water on Tuesday. Russian-installed local officials said at least seven people had been reported missing there.
Overnight the waters reached critical levels in several settlements further downstream, completely submerging the settlements of Korsunka and Oleshky. Authorities announced a state of emergency across the Russian-held territories and spoke of organised evacuations, although as of Wednesday there were no images on local social media of any formal evacuation process.
In his regular evening address on Tuesday, Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy reiterated that he believed Russian forces occupying the dam had deliberately blown it up from the inside, while Ukraine’s General Staff of the Armed Forces added it was done in an attempt to disrupt Kyiv’s counteroffensive.
“The disaster at the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant caused by Russian terrorists will not stop Ukraine and Ukrainians. We will still liberate all our land,” Zelenskyy said. “Each Russian act of terrorism increases only the amount of reparations that Russia will pay for its crimes, not the chances of the occupiers to stay on our land.”
The long-awaited military operation to recapture Russian-occupied territory appeared to get under way in recent days, with a spike in assaults along the 1,000km frontline, as well as in incursion into Russia’s Belgorod region.
Zelenskyy also warned that the flood would have global consequences and urged the international community to provide support.
“For Africa, Europe, the United States, China, Australia, India, man-made disasters are evil,” he said. “We must stop the Russian evil.”
In New York, UN relief chief Martin Griffiths told the Security Council in an emergency session that the “sheer magnitude of the catastrophe” in Kherson would only be evident in the coming days.
But he said it was already clear that it would have “grave and far-reaching consequences for thousands of people in southern Ukraine, on both sides of the frontline, through the loss of homes, food, safe water and livelihoods”.