Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has accused Russian forces of shelling Ukrainian emergency workers who are trying to rescue people from floodwaters caused by the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam.
Speaking in his nightly address on Wednesday, Zelenskyy said that more than 2,000 people have been rescued so far from flooding in the Kherson and Mykolaiv regions which, he said, contrasted starkly with Russian-occupied regions where he accused Moscow’s forces of simply abandoning people to the flood.
“Evacuation continues. Under fire!” Zelenskyy said. “Russian artillery continues to fire, no matter what. Savages,” he said.
“Our military and special services are rescuing people as much as it is possible, despite the shelling.”
Zelenskky described conditions in Russian-occupied parts of the Kherson region as “absolutely catastrophic” and called on international humanitarian organisations, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, to immediately deploy to and help people abandoned in occupied areas now hit by flooding from the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam on Tuesday.
“The occupiers simply abandoned people in these terrible conditions. Without rescue, without water, just on the rooftops in flooded communities,” Ukraine’s president said.
“It is even impossible to establish for sure how many people in the temporarily occupied territory of Kherson region may die without rescue, without drinking water, without food, without medical care,” he added.
Reporters said on Wednesday that artillery booms could be heard as people scrambled to leave affected areas with the help of rescue workers.
Earlier on Wednesday, Zelenskky said he was disappointed that the UN and the Red Cross had so far failed to respond rapidly to the dam disaster, according to comments published by media outlets.
“Each person who dies there is a verdict on the existing international architecture and international organisations that have forgotten how to save lives,” he said later in his evening address.
“If there is no international organisation in the area of this disaster now, it means that it does not exist at all, that it is incapable of functioning. All the relevant appeals from Ukraine and our government are in place,” he said.
The situation in the occupied part of Kherson region is absolutely catastrophic. The occupiers simply abandoned people in these terrible conditions. Without rescue, without water, just on the rooftops in flooded communities. And this is another deliberate crime of Russia: after… pic.twitter.com/SPGzXyoCen
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) June 7, 2023
Putin’s first comments on dam
Commenting for the first time on the blowing up of the dam on Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin repeated Moscow’s line that Ukraine was to blame.
In a call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Putin alleged that Kyiv authorities, encouraged by Western supporters, had destroyed the dam and were escalating “war crimes, openly using terrorist methods and staging acts of sabotage on Russian territory”, the Kremlin said in its account of the call.
Erdogan has proposed a commission of inquiry into the dam’s destruction, the presidential office in Ankara said, following separate telephone conversations with Putin and Zelenskyy on Wednesday.
It remains unclear how the dam disaster would affect the war and Ukraine’s planned counteroffensive against Russian forces, but Kyiv said on Wednesday that its troops had advanced more than 1km (just over half a mile) around the ruined city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine.
Reports of the advance were the most explicit claim of battlefield progress by Ukraine since Russia said that the Ukrainian counteroffensive had begun – unannounced – earlier this week.
Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s national security council, said assaults under way were still localised, and the full-scale offensive has yet to begin, adding that the public would know when the counteroffensive starts.
“Our troops have switched from defence to the offensive in the direction of Bakhmut,” Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar said on Telegram.
Russia’s defence ministry confirmed eight Ukrainian attempts to attack near Bakhmut but said that all had been repelled.
Addressing the issue of the dam’s destruction as Kyiv and Moscow trade blame, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a Washington, DC-based think tank, said Russia has “a greater and clearer interest in flooding the lower [Dnipro] despite the damage to their own prepared defensive positions”.
Believing that Ukraine had already begun its counteroffensive, the ISW said, Russian forces may have thought breaching the dam could cover their possible retreat and delay Ukraine’s advance.
However, the flooding is now heavily disrupting Russia’s prepared defensive positions along the occupied bank of the Dnipro river, the ISW said on Thursday.
Near-infrared imagery captured at 0400 am ET on June 7 indicates that flooding is heavily disrupting prepared Russian defensive positions on the east bank of the #Dnipro River – especially affecting Russian first-line positions in Hola Prystan & Oleshky. https://t.co/W6mPtd0HgQ https://t.co/ai9DXhGgrC pic.twitter.com/7A4tXHzqdb
— ISW (@TheStudyofWar) June 8, 2023
“The flooding has destroyed many Russian first-line field fortifications that the Russian military intended to use to defend against Ukrainian attacks,” the ISW added.
Authorities are now warning of the impact on global hunger and the environment due to the dam’s destruction with the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) warning that the flooding could destroy crops and lead to greater hunger worldwide.
Ukraine’s agriculture ministry said that it expects about 10,000 hectares (38.6 square miles) of agricultural land on the northern bank of the Dnipro river in the Kherson region to be flooded, according to initial estimates. On the southern bank, in the Russian-occupied region, this area will be flooded many times, the ministry said on its website.
Environmental organisation Greenpeace also warned of enormous damage to the country’s water supply and food security.
“Due to the scale of the disaster […] there will be inevitable impacts on the water supply for millions of people and agriculture during the coming summer months and beyond,” Greenpeace said.