A dam collapses and thousands face the tide – often without help – in Russian-occupied Ukraine

KYIV, Ukraine — The Ukrainian teenager has been waiting for days in the attic, across the street from the cemetery in his flooded city, spending time with his 83-year-old grandfather and two other elderly people, hoping to help them escape the catastrophic flood. dam failure.

But help is coming slowly to Oleskyi, a Russian-occupied town across the Dnieper River from Kherson, which had a population of 24,000 before the war, according to their stranded and desperate Ukrainian rescuers. Russian forces are taking rescue boats, they say. According to some, the soldiers will only help those with Russian passports.

“Russian soldiers are standing at checkpoints, preventing (rescuers) from approaching the most affected areas and taking the boats,” said volunteer Yaroslav Vasiliev. “They are afraid of saboteurs, they suspect everyone.”

So 19-year-old Yektarina But and the three elderly people with her are simply waiting, along with thousands of others believed to be trapped by the floodwaters that spread across 600 square kilometers (230 square miles) of the Kherson region. About two-thirds of the flooded areas are in Russian-occupied territory, officials said.

The group in the attic has no electricity, no running water, no food. But’s cell phone battery is dying.

“We are afraid that no one will know about our death,” he said in a brief cellphone interview, his voice shaking.

“It flooded everything around us,” he said. “Still no help.” His grandfather, who had a stroke, ran out of medicine, he said. A woman with him, the neighbor’s grandmother, could not move on her own.

Others were blocked from saving.

Viktoria Mironova-Baka said that she contacted her relatives trapped in the flooded region from Germany.

“My relatives said that Russian soldiers are coming to the house today by boat, but they said that they will only take those who have Russian passports,” he told The Associated Press. His grandmother, his aunt and more than a dozen other people seek shelter in the attic of a one-story house.

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The details of life in Russian-occupied Ukraine are often murky. The AP could not independently verify reports that the ships were seized or that only Russians were evacuated, but the account is consistent with independent Russian media reports.

This is in stark contrast to the Ukrainian-controlled territory that was flooded after the dam collapsed. Authorities there aggressively evacuated civilians and brought in emergency supplies. President Volodymyr Zelensky traveled to the area on Thursday to assess the damage. Russian President Vladimir Putin “has no plans at the moment” to visit the territories occupied by Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

This region has suffered terribly since Russia invaded Ukraine early last year, enduring sometimes relentless artillery and missile attacks.

The latest disaster began on Tuesday, when the Kahovka hydroelectric dam, roughly 80 kilometers upstream from Oleskij, collapsed, sending torrents of water down the Dnieper River and the front lines of the war.

Officials say more than 6,000 people have been evacuated from dozens of flooded cities, towns and villages on both sides of the river. But the true scale of the disaster remains unclear in a region that was once home to tens of thousands of people.

Officials on both sides indicated that about 16 people had died, but the numbers could not be independently verified. The Ukrainian mayor of Oleskij, Yevhen Riscsuk, said bodies were floating to the surface.

Many of the survivors are homeless, and tens of thousands are without drinking water.

The floods destroyed crops, dislodged landmines, caused widespread environmental damage and led to long-term power shortages.

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According to Ukraine, Russia destroyed the dam with explosives. Russia accuses Ukraine of destroying it with a missile strike.

A drone flown by the AP team over the ruins of the dam on Wednesday showed no burn marks or shrapnel marks typical of the bombing. Much of the dam itself is now submerged, and the AP images offered a limited snapshot, making it difficult to rule out that scenario. The dam was also weakened by Russian neglect, and water had been pouring over it for weeks. It has been under Russian control since the February 2022 invasion.

Adding to the tragedy, Russia shelled the flood-hit areas, including the frontline city of Kherson. On Thursday, Russian gunfire echoed not far from a square in Kherson, where emergency services and volunteers were distributing aid. Ukrainian officials said some evacuation points in the city were hit and nine people were wounded.

Russia claims that the Ukrainians have also shelled the flood-affected areas controlled by Moscow. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov praised the “selfless work” of Russian rescue teams helping flood victims, noting that they were constantly working under Ukrainian shelling.

“People who suffered flooding lost their lives as a result of shelling, including a pregnant woman,” Peskov said.

The flood irreversibly altered the landscape and changed the dynamics of the 15-month-old war.

Riscsuk Mayor Oleskij said by Thursday afternoon the water level had started to recede, but roughly 90% of the city was still flooded.

Riscsuk fled after Russian forces tried to coerce him into cooperation, but he remains in close contact with those living in and around the city.

Russia says it is helping civilians in the area. Moscow-appointed regional governor Vladimir Saldo said more than 4,000 people had been evacuated from flood zones. He shared a video showing empty beds in shelters set up for displaced people.

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Ryshchuk rejects such talk.

He said some people who tried to leave the flooded areas were forced back by Russian soldiers who accused them of being “waiters” – waiting for Ukraine to regain control of the area.

Others who called Russian-run emergency services were told to wait for help, he said.

“That’s it,” he said. “Yesterday morning some Russians came, took some people off the roofs, took a video and left. To date, that’s all they’ve done.”

The help that came through was scattered.

For example, Ukrainian military footage showed its troops dropping a bottle of water from a drone on a boy who was trapped with his mother and sister in the attic of their home near Oleskij. Ukrainian soldiers later evacuated the family and their pets to the city of Herzzon, the National Police reported.

Most of the help is organized by volunteers who communicate through the encrypted application Telegram. In these groups, messages appear every few minutes about people who are trapped, often on the roofs of their houses. Most are posted by relatives in safer areas.

Only one of these volunteer groups has a map showing requests to search and rescue more than 1,000 people, mostly in Oleshky and the nearby town of Hola Prystan.

A woman helping one of the groups, who spoke on condition that her name not be used because she feared retaliation from the Russian occupiers, shared a message with an AP reporter.

“We were looking for a person named Serhiy Borzov,” the message says. “They found it. Unfortunately, he is dead. Our condolences to the family.”


Karmanau reported from Tallinn, Estonia. Arhirova reported from Warsaw, Poland.


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Source: https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/dam-collapses-thousands-face-deluge-russian-occupied-ukraine-99955078