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Ukrainians in Russian-held areas abandoned ‘with no one to rescue them’

People in flooded occupied areas of Kherson have been left “alone in this disaster” with the Russians failing to organise rescue efforts following the breach of the Nova Kakhovka, a local journalist has told i.

The Soviet-era hydroelectric dam, which sits on the Dnipro river on the front line between Ukrainian and Russian-controlled territory, was destroyed on Tuesday, causing thousands of homes to flood. Ukraine has accused Russia of blowing it up on purpose.

Kherson’s governor, Oleksandr Prokudin, said 68 per cent of the flooded territory was on the Russian-occupied left bank of the Dnipro River, and, as of Thursday morning, the average water level across the region had reached 5.6 metres.

A local journalist, Ivan Antypenko, told i people living in Russian-held areas faced dire conditions because no evacuation efforts were organised by the Russian administration.

“What I saw yesterday and the day before is that people from the left bank are trying to come to the bank on the right which is under Ukrainian control,” the 33-year-old, from Kherson and who works for Radio Liberty and others, said.

“I know that the situation here [the left bank] is really more difficult because the occupiers didn’t organise any evacuation missions or anything like that. They [civilians] are alone in this disaster.”

People amid flooding in Kherson (Photo: Ivan Antypenko) provided to Claire Gilbody Dickerson
People amid flooding in Kherson (Photo: Ivan Antypenko)

Ukrainian-held areas which have been flooded, on the other hand, have seen emergency services and the national guard “working very hard” to bring people to safety, with many being relocated to other areas of the war-hit country, the journalist added.

The Russian-installed mayor of Nova Kakhovka said on Thursday that five people had died after the dam burst, Russian state-owned news agency RIA reported. i could not independently verify the claim.

The Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, who visited the affected region on Thursday, said in a video address late on Wednesday that it was impossible to predict how many people would die in Russian-occupied areas due to the flooding.

Mr Prokudin said earlier on Thursday that 600 square kilometres, or 230 square miles, of the region was under water and nearly 2,000 people had already left affected areas.

Pets being rescued from flooding in Kherson (Photo: Ivan Antypenko) provided to Claire Gilbody Dickerson
Pets being rescued from the floods (Photo: Ivan Antypenko)

Russian state-owned news agency TASS cited the country’s security services as saying on Thursday that around 14,000 houses have been flooded, with around 4,300 people evacuated.

Mr Antypenko described covering events over the past three days and being stunned by how some people whose flat was just a floor from being submerged in Korabel, a district of Kherson, refused to leave when rescuers arrived to help.

Pointing to how they were on the third floor and the first two floors of their apartment block was under water, Mr Antypenko said: “Now they can’t exit, they need to swim. It’s really dangerous, I don’t know why they made this decision.”

Mr Antypenko said those wanting to stay might be “fatalists” who think: “We have overcome Russian occupation and this water, I don’t care, the water has come in and it will go out, everything will be okay.”

Either way, all they asked was: “Just give us bread and cigarettes,” he added.

He said some people who have fled the zone were hoping they would be back in five days or so.

“They can’t,” Mr Antypenko said. “A lot of people have lost their home.”

Ukraine blamed Russia, which launched a full-scale invasion of its smaller neighbour in February 2022, for blowing up the Russian-controlled dam. Russia said Ukraine sabotaged the dam at the behest of the West to constrict water supplies to Crimea and to distract from a faltering offensive.

Additional reporting by agencies

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