Ukraine flood victims panic as occupying Russian officials fail to send help

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KYIV, Ukraine — Flood victims in Russian-occupied areas of southern Ukraine described scenes of panic and desperation Wednesday, with residents trapped in their homes and no sign of emergency responders in the area.

“The entire street is sitting on their roofs, begging for help. The animals are drowning and howling,” one woman from Oleshky, an occupied Ukrainian town on the east bank of the Dnieper River, told The Washington Post, communicating via the Telegram messaging app.

In some cases, entire towns and villages were submerged or washed away by the gushing and still-rising floodwaters, which were released by a catastrophic collapse of the Kakhovka dam Tuesday.

“I’m begging you, please, help my parents, they are trapped, I’ll pay, but just save them,” another woman in Oleshky, which has been almost fully submerged, posted in an evacuation chat group set up by volunteers and relatives. Similar messages were appearing every minute or so.

The dire scenes unfolding in Oleshky and at least seven other Russian-occupied towns and villages downstream of the dam reflected the misery of nearly 15 months of brutal war and the chaos in a region now governed by the Kremlin-installed officials after local authorities were ousted.

“The authorities there are not helping. They are just impeding the process as they are not letting buses and boats that we paid for to go through to volunteers,” said Yaroslav Vasyliev, who created a Telegram evacuation chat for Oleshky after hours of trying to get through to a branch of Russia’s Ministry of Emergency Situations, hoping to save his father, who was stuck on the roof of the family home.

“They were reading the messages but did not do anything, and people were drowning, so I’ve created the group, and volunteers began to join,” Vasyliev said.

Maps show how damaged Kakhovka dam hurts both Ukraine and Russia

The outskirts of the town are fully underwater, leaving just patches of the city center as a haven for hundreds of affected families. Vasyliev and other volunteers said rescue missions have fallen almost entirely on the shoulders of residents as they spent the night scouring the area for small boats and emergency supplies.

Anastasia, who declined to give her surname for security reasons, said that she was trying to evacuate relatives trapped in Oleshky but that buses were being blocked in Radensk, a settlement in occupied Kherson region, which is farther inland.

Anastasia sent The Post screenshots from her conversation with the bus driver, and other volunteers in the area corroborated her account that buses were unable to travel farther than Radensk.

The town’s mayor, who would give only her first name, Ekaterina, said volunteers were stuck in the town because of shelling by the Ukrainian side. Her account could not be verified.

Other residents in Oleshky said they could hear steady shelling but could not determine whether Ukrainian or Russian troops were firing.

Natalia Humeniuk, a spokeswoman for the Ukrainian military’s southern command, denied that Ukrainian troops were shelling the area. “We are aware of the scale of the release [of water]. We do not attack the flooded settlements,” Humeniuk said.

Speaking to The Post over encrypted messenger services, Natalia Stuklalo said she and a companion who has diabetes were trapped on the second floor a partly constructed house in Oleshky and were hoping to be rescued.

“The situation is awful. The water level has risen above the fence,” said Stuklalo, adding that she was on a street a few hundred meters from the river. “There are two of us. The other person has Type 2 diabetes,” she said. “We have enough food at the moment.”

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Another woman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of security concerns, said she was in a partly flooded part of the town and that the men in her neighborhood had recovered a motorboat from the debris and were trying to evacuate people.

“We are trying to help with our own strength,” the woman said. “There are not-quite-flooded areas in the city that allow several male hands to pull out a boat from under the rubble … which will be very useful to us.”

Officials of the occupied Kherson region said on the area’s official Telegram channel that three air units of Russia’s state emergency services had begun operating in the area and that a temporary shelter center had been set up in Skadovsk on the Black Sea.

“In Oleshky, we are expect the peak of the rise in water in the coming hours, then it will rapidly retreat,” said Andrey Alekseenko, a Kremlin-appointed official in the region.

The head of Russian-occupied Kherson region, Vladimir Saldo, had played down the risk of flooding Tuesday, saying in a video that people continued to go about their day and move through the streets calmly. As he spoke, administrative building behind him was slowly being overtaken by muddy water.

Damage to Russian-held hydroelectric plant floods south Ukraine battlefield

Saldo later said that some evacuations would be carried out but insisted that the situation was still “under control” and that residents were “staying calm,” but he acknowledged that the town of Nova Kakhovka was badly flooded.

On Wednesday, Saldo told Russian television that evacuations were underway in some areas but that few residents wanted to leave. He also claimed that Ukrainian forces had shelled the area over the previous 24 hours.

The head of the Ukrainian-controlled part of Kherson, Oleksandr Prokudin, meanwhile, listed two settlements on the east bank of the Dnieper River that Ukraine’s authorities assessed to be submerged and seven that were partly flooded. Prokudin called on residents on the east bank to leave the area if possible.

Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations, Sergiy Kyslytsya, appealed to the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross on Tuesday evening to send humanitarian assistance.

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.

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