As flood engulfs Kherson combat zone, Ukraine claims troop advances in east

Get real time updates directly on you device, subscribe now.

KYIV, Ukraine — Waters continued to rise in southern Ukraine, flooding war-torn neighborhoods and trapping thousands of residents on Wednesday, after a catastrophic dam collapse triggered a humanitarian disaster at a pivotal moment of fighting on the front lines of Russia’s 15-month-long war.

Nearly 2,000 homes had flooded by Wednesday morning in Ukrainian-controlled parts of the southern Kherson region, the regional administration said, after the destruction of the Russian-controlled Kakhovka dam and hydroelectric power plant sent water rushing over the banks of the Dnieper River.

With the floodwaters not expected to peak until at least Wednesday night, the scale of the disaster was almost certain to rise. In some inundated towns and villages, residents described calling in vain to the Russian occupying authorities for emergency assistance but said they got no help.

It remained unclear what caused the breach of one of the largest reservoirs in Ukraine, or who was responsible. Ukraine and Russia have blamed each other for the destruction.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky described it as an “absolutely deliberate” attack by Russia caused by an explosion inside the hydroelectric power plant.

Russia, which seized the dam at the start of its invasion of Ukraine, has accused Ukraine of destroying it to cut off water to Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula illegally annexed in 2014. But Russia has not described how Ukraine could have done so with the plant under Moscow’s control.

Whether the dam was attacked, or collapsed for some other reason, the vast flooding has redrawn the battlefield on the southern front. Some heavily fortified Russian positions were left underwater, but Ukraine’s chances of advancing into the affected region were also constrained.

Ukraine flood victims say occupying Russian officials fail to send help

The deluge occurred just as Kyiv appeared to be launching its long-awaited counteroffensive aimed at ousting Russia’s forces, which occupy roughly 20 percent of Ukraine’s sovereign territory

The flooding thwarts the possibility of a Ukrainian push across the now-swollen Dnieper River in the near future, but military analysts said it was unlikely to have a major impact on an overland push.

While Ukraine has remained silent about its plans for a major offensive, Zelensky said the “readiness” of his troops for further action is at a “maximum.”

“The destruction of the dam did not affect our ability to liberate the territories,” Zelensky said at a meeting Tuesday.

Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have been left without drinking water as a result of the dam collapse, Zelensky said in a Telegram message Wednesday. At least 1,750 people have been evacuated from the west bank of the river, said Oleksandr Prokudin, Ukraine’s governor for the Kherson region.

“But we can only help on the territory controlled by Ukraine,” Zelensky said Wednesday morning. “On the part occupied by Russia, the occupiers are not even trying to help people. This once again demonstrates the cynicism with which Russia treats the people whose land it has captured and what Russia really brings to Europe and the world.”

On the Russian-controlled east bank, some residents said they had been left to find their own way out, as rising waters trapped people in their homes, or even on rooftops.

As Russian local authorities claimed the situation was “under control,” video footage showed a woman pleading for help on a roof, while others posted desperate messages on Telegram with their locations.

The head of Kherson’s Russian-installed administration, Vladimir Saldo, said Wednesday that as many as 40,000 people were affected, according to Russian media.

The town adjacent to the dam, Nova Kakhovka, is severely flooded, Saldo wrote on Telegram, adding that officials are distributing drinking water and expecting to deliver electric generators and pumps. He said they are also evacuating people from dangerous areas, with a focus on families with children.

Maps show how damaged Kakhovka dam hurts both Ukraine and Russia

The crisis unfolded along an active front line, forcing residents to flee their waterlogged homes under the threat of shelling.

On Tuesday alone, Russian forces shelled the Kherson region 70 times, according to Kherson officials, and nine times in the city itself. Russian-installed officials accused Ukraine of shelling the area as well. The dueling accounts could not be independently verified.

Officials said they feared ecological and epidemiological disasters would result from the dam’s destruction. Hundreds of tons of oil have started seeping into the Dnieper River toward the Black Sea. Cemeteries, factories, gas stations and other business are also flooded, Ukrainian Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko told reporters as he visited Kherson on Wednesday.

“It’s difficult to estimate the damage because we don’t know how much longer the areas will be flooded and what is actually underneath the water,” Klymenko said.

Across Ukraine on Tuesday, Russia launched 35 missile strikes, all of which were destroyed by Ukraine’s air defenses, according to a military update Wednesday morning. In total, Russia carried out 41 airstrikes.

On the battlefield, the east continues to be the epicenter of the fighting, Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar wrote on Telegram Wednesday morning.

In Bakhmut, Ukraine’s forces have moved from a defensive to offensive position, Maliar said, and had advanced from 200 meters to more than 1,100 meters in several areas of the Bakhmut region.

Late last month, Russia declared that it had captured control of Bakhmut, and the leader of the Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, quickly announced his forces would be leaving. But Maliar said some Wagner forces remain.

“The enemy in this direction went on the defensive, trying to hold the occupied positions,” she said. “At present, the enemy is withdrawing its reserves in this direction from the depth for protection.”

U.S. had intelligence of detailed Ukrainian plan to attack Nord Stream pipeline

Konrad Muzyka, president of Rochan Consulting, a military analysis firm based in Poland, said it was unclear how many units sat in the now-flooded areas in the Kherson region, and that it was difficult to know what kind of impact the crisis will have on the front lines. But Muzyka said he expected some of the forces there would be shifted to other parts of the country, including to the Zaporizhzhia region and to Bakhmut.

Russia has far more to gain from the dam breach, Muzyka said. While it was never clear that Ukraine was planning operations to cross the river, such an offensive will not be available to Kyiv’s forces in the coming months, he said.

The catastrophe also gives Russia time and space to shift its units around and deploy more forces from Kherson to Zaporizhzhia.

Muzyka said he has noted fighting intensifying in the Zaporizhzhia region and other front-line areas, and some Ukrainian advances in the east, but he said: “I don’t think that what we are seeing now is the big push that everyone has been waiting for.”

Kostiantyn Khudov and Isobel Koshiw in Kyiv, Ukraine, Serhii Korolchuk in Kherson, Ukraine, and Natalia Abbakumova in Riga, Latvia, contributed to this report.

War in Ukraine: What you need to know

The latest: The Kakhovka dam and hydroelectric power plant in southern Ukraine were severely damaged on June 6, unleashing flooding near the front lines. Ukraine and Russia each blamed the other for attacking the site, destroying the plant and damaging the dam. As water gushed from the facility on the Dnieper River, which separates Ukrainian and Russian forces, officials on both sides ordered residents to evacuate.

The fight: Russia took control of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, where thousands of Russian and Ukrainian soldiers died in the war’s longest and bloodiest battle, in late May. But holding the city will be difficult. The Wagner Group, responsible for the fight and victory in Bakhmut, is allegedly leaving and being replaced by the Russian army.

The upcoming counteroffensive: After a rainy few months left the ground muddy, sticky and unsuitable for heavy vehicles in southern Ukraine, temperatures are rising — and with them, the expectations of a long-awaited counteroffensive against occupying Russian forces.

The frontline: The Washington Post has mapped out the 600-mile front line between Ukrainian and Russian forces.

How you can help: Here are ways those in the United States can support the Ukrainian people as well as what people around the world have been donating.

Read our full coverage of the Russia-Ukraine war. Are you on Telegram? Subscribe to our channel for updates and exclusive video.

Source link