By Viktoriia Lakezina
KHERSON, Ukraine (Reuters) – About 42,000 people were at risk of flooding in Russian-Ukrainian-controlled areas along the Dnipro after a dam collapsed as the United Nations aid chief United has warned of “serious and profound consequences”.
Ukraine and Russia blame each other for the massive dam collapse on Tuesday, which sent flooding through part of the war zone and forced thousands to flee.
Ukraine has said Russia committed a deliberate war crime by blowing up the Soviet-era Nova Kakhovka dam, which powered a hydroelectric plant. The Kremlin blamed Ukraine, saying it was trying to distract from the launch of a major counteroffensive that Moscow says is faltering.
UN aid chief Martin Griffiths told the Security Council that the breach of the dam “will have serious and profound consequences for thousands of people in southern Ukraine on both sides of the line. head on due to the loss of homes, food, drinking water and livelihoods”.
“The scale of the disaster will only be fully realized in the coming days,” he said.
No deaths were initially reported, but US spokesman John Kirby said the flooding likely caused “many deaths”.
Ukrainian officials estimated around 42,000 people were at risk from the floods, which are expected to peak on Wednesday.
In the city of Kherson, about 60 km (37 miles) downstream from the dam, water levels rose by 3.5 meters (11-1/2 feet) on Tuesday, forcing residents to cross the water to ‘to the knees to evacuate, carrying plastic bags full of possessions and small pets in carriers.
“Everything is submerged in water, all the furniture, the fridge, the food, all the flowers, everything is floating. I don’t know what to do,” said Oskana, 53, when asked about her home.
Buses, trains and private vehicles have been assembled to transport people to safety in around 80 communities at risk of flooding.
In Kherson, incoming artillery fissures sent people trying to run for cover on Tuesday. In the evening, Reuters reporters heard four artillery explosions near a residential area where civilians were evacuating.
Residents of flooded Nova Kakhovka on the Russian side of the Dnipro told Reuters some had decided to stay despite the exit order.
“They say they are ready to shoot without warning,” said one man, Hlib, describing encounters with Russian troops.
The Kazkova Dibrova zoo on the Russian side was completely flooded and all 300 animals died, a representative said via the zoo’s Facebook account.
“More and more water is coming every hour. It’s very dirty,” Yevheniya, a woman from Nova Kakhovka, said by phone.
Washington said it was uncertain who was responsible, but US Deputy Ambassador to the UN Robert Wood told reporters it would not make sense for Ukraine to destroy the dam and harm to his own people.
The Geneva Conventions prohibit the targeting of roadblocks in times of war because of the danger to civilians.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a video address that his prosecutors have already approached the International Criminal Court about the dam. Earlier, he claimed on Telegram that Russian forces blew up the power plant from inside.
“Residents are sitting on the roofs of their houses waiting to be rescued… This is a Russian crime against people, nature and life itself,” said senior official Oleksiy Kuleba. from Zelenskiy’s team, on Telegram.
The dam supplies water to a large area of agricultural land in southern Ukraine, including the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula, and cools Russia’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.
The UN nuclear watchdog said Zaporizhzhia, upstream of the reservoir, should have enough water to cool its reactors for “a few months” from a separate basin.
As Kiev prepares for a long-awaited counteroffensive, some military analysts have said the floods could benefit Russia by slowing or limiting any potential Ukrainian advances along this part of the front line.
(Reporting by Reuters offices; Writing by Cynthia Osterman; Editing by Michael Perry)