Dead bodies are floating in flooded areas after the Nova Kakhovka dam was destroyed, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
The vast Soviet-era hydroelectric dam collapsed early on Tuesday, unleashing torrents of water into the Dnipro that have resulted in widespread flooding.
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Kyiv and Moscow have traded blame over the incident.
Speaking to the US-based news site Politico on Wednesday, Zelenskyy also accused Russian forces of shooting at Ukrainian rescuers as they attempted to reach people trapped in affected areas.
“From the roofs of the flooded houses, people see drowned people floating by. You can see that on the other side. It’s very hard to get people out of the occupied part of [the] Kherson region. When our forces try to get them out, they are shot at by occupiers from a distance,” he said.
The Kyiv Independent, quoting Yevhen Ryshchuk, the exiled mayor of the Russian-occupied city Oleshky, reported that at least three people have died due to the dam disaster.
The Russian-installed mayor of Nova Kakhovka said on Thursday that five people had died, according to the Russian state-owned news agency RIA Novosti.
However, Zelenskyy warned that it is not possible yet to know how many people have died.
“We won’t be able to see all the consequences for a few days, when the water has trickled down a bit,” he told Politico.
Evacuations under way
Ukrainian and Russian-controlled territories on each side of the Dnipro are affected.
Ukraine’s regional governor Oleksandr Prokudin estimated that about 600 square kilometres (230 square miles) of the Kherson region was underwater on Thursday and that 68 percent of the flooded territory was on the Russian-controlled side.
The state emergency service of Ukraine said about 2,000 people had been evacuated from flooded areas, including 103 children.
On the Russia-controlled bank, Vladimir Saldo, the Russia-backed regional governor, said up to 40,000 people remained in flooded areas.
His deputy, Tatyana Kuzmich, said 1,274 people had been evacuated and that the emergency response would last at least 10 days.
Thousands without drinking water
Meanwhile, the United Nations has warned of an environmental disaster that could have dire humanitarian consequences for hundreds of thousands of people.
The UN humanitarian agency OCHA said emergency efforts were under way to provide assistance to more than 16,000 people, including water supplies.
The UN said a team is in Kherson to coordinate relief efforts and that access to drinking water was a major concern, adding that 12,000 bottles of water and 10,000 purification tablets have been distributed so far.
The World Bank will conduct a rapid assessment of the damage & needs caused by the russian terrorist attack. Talked to @bjerde_anna about the consequences of the destruction of the Kakhovka HPP dam. Grateful to @WorldBank for its continued support to #Ukraine.
— Denys Shmyhal (@Denys_Shmyhal) June 7, 2023
Animal welfare concerns are also rising.
On Tuesday, it was confirmed that as many as 300 animals at the Kazkova Dibrova Zoo had died after it was flooded.
Rescue operations were hampered by mines which surrounded the zoo’s perimeter.
— Olha Konsevych (@Liza22Frank) June 6, 2023