KHERSON, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces shelled a southern Ukrainian city Thursday flooded in a catastrophic dam failure, Ukrainian officials said, forcing the suspension of some rescue efforts hours after President Volodymyr Zelenskyy went to the site to assess the damage.
The new fighting has brought security issues back to the region, two days after the collapse of the Kakhovka dam on the Dnieper River began a scramble to evacuate residents in dozens of flooded areas and get help to those still there.
Officials on both sides say at least 14 people have died in the flooding, thousands have been left homeless and thousands are without drinking water after the collapse. Kyiv has accused Moscow of blowing up the dam and its associated hydropower plant, which are controlled by Kremlin forces, while Russia says Ukraine bombed it.
The ensuing flooding destroyed crops, displaced land mines, caused widespread environmental damage, and set the stage for long-term power shortages. Exclusive drone footage captured by The Associated Press showed a ruined dam that collapsed into the river and hundreds of submerged homes, greenhouses and even a church.
Above the dam, the supply of water used to cool Europe’s largest nuclear power plant is nearing low levels, Ukraine’s state hydroelectric company said. But the UN’s atomic energy watchdog said on Wednesday that work was underway to ensure that the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant has enough water on hand to cool its shut-down reactors, in case supplies fall short. too much
Zelenskyy’s office said Moscow forces also continued to attack Ukrainian-held areas near the nuclear plant, which is under Russian control.
The high tide has brought new misery and death to a country suffering countless casualties after 15 months of war.
Vladimir Leontyev, the Kremlin-installed mayor of Nova Kakhovka, a Russian-held city adjacent to the dam, told Russian state TV that five residents there had died in the flooding. And said Mykolaiv regional Gov. Vitalii Kim one person died in that region northwest of the city of Kherson.
Yevhen Ryshchuk, the mayor of Oleshky in the south who fled the town after the Russians took it over, told The Associated Press that residents told him eight people had died so far in the flooding, with bodies floating on top. His tally could not be immediately verified.
Residents of Oleshky accused the Russian authorities in the town of not doing enough to help civilians, and they formed a group of more than 8,000 that shared messages about information such as those stranded and imprisoned. locals.
In the city of Kherson, the largest municipality affected, Russian shelling echoed not far from a square where emergency crews and volunteers were providing aid. Nine people were injured, including two emergency workers, a police officer, a doctor and volunteers from Germany.
As shells landed in floodwaters, rescuers suspended efforts to reach stranded residents and pets in an area Zelenskyy had visited just hours earlier, officials told the AP.
“The strikes began during the evacuation of residents, whose houses were flooded,” the Internal Affairs Ministry said. “Russia has abandoned people to disaster in the occupied part of the Kherson region. It continues to prevent Ukraine from saving the most important — human life.”
Zelenskyy visited an aid distribution site and a medical facility in Kherson, ordering officials to provide a “fair amount” of destruction to compensate residents, his office said in an update.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has “no plans at the present moment” to visit the affected areas occupied by Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
Regional Gov. Vladimir Soldo, installed by Moscow to oversee the Russian-occupied zone, accused Ukrainian troops of firing at an evacuation point in Hola Prystan, a Russian-held town. Soldo said in a Telegram post that two people, including a pregnant 33-year-old woman, were killed and two others were injured. His account could not be verified immediately.
Fighting has intensified along a more than 1,000-kilometer (620-mile) front line from Kherson on the Black Sea to Ukraine’s border with Russia — in what some experts and officials say could be part of a long-anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive.. Kyiv said it would not announce the start of any such campaign.
The damage to the dam prompted the United Nations and local officials to say that the most immediate concerns for the affected areas were access to fresh water and avoiding contact with floodwaters. contaminated with explosives and industrial chemicals.
Officials said more than 6,000 people were evacuated on both sides of the river. The true scale of the disaster has yet to emerge in an affected area that was once home to more than 60,000.
In areas under their control, Russian-appointed authorities said nearly two dozen people were hospitalized, 4,280 people were evacuated and 14,000 buildings were flooded.
Russian officials said the dam’s destruction would permanently cut off fresh water supplies to southern Ukraine and Russian-controlled Crimea, even though the peninsula has enough fresh water for now, with its reservoirs at 80 % tree.
Ukrainian authorities cut off water supplies to Crimea after Moscow’s illegal annexation of the peninsula in 2014, and Putin cited the need to restore them as the main reason for his decision to invade Ukraine.
Regional Gov said. Oleksandr Prokudin said about 600 square kilometers (231 square miles) of the region was submerged — more than two-thirds of it on the Russian-controlled east bank of the Dnieper.
“People are tired … (they) have no desire to flee to other regions of Ukraine,” said Prokudin.
French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted that the destruction of the dam was an “attack” and a “heinous act,” without assigning blame. Paris said it was rushing aid including water purifiers, 500,000 water purification tablets and hygiene kits.
President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, a key Putin ally, said Kyiv blew up the dam to distract attention from what it described as a botched attempt to launch its counteroffensive.
Ukrainian authorities have been largely silent about recent developments on the battlefield amid growing reports of intensified fighting that could add up to the long-awaited counteroffensive.
In a podcast Wednesday, Michael Kofman of the Center for Naval Analyses, a US research group, said the fighting had taken a “more positive turn” with Ukrainian forces appearing to conduct offensive operations near eastern town of Velyka Novosilka and other points in the southern part of Donetsk region, as well as on its border with Zaporizhzhia province.
“These attacks I don’t believe to be the main offensive effort, but they mark what I think is the beginning of the Ukrainian offensive,” he said. “It’s now beyond shaping operations — these are multi-brigade attacks, they’ve broken Russian lines in and around Velyka Novosilka.”
In eastern Donbas, a battle continued for the largely destroyed city of Bakhmut — one of the war’s epicenters. Ukraine’s 3rd Separate Assault Brigade, in a Telegram post, said it was advancing on the edges of the city.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said his country’s forces pushed back Ukrainian troops trying to punch through defense lines in the Zaporizhzhia region after a two-hour battle involving what he said were up to 1,500 soldiers of Ukraine and 150 armored vehicles.
“The enemy’s reserve forces specially trained for the realization of this victory did not fulfill their task,” Shoigu said. He did not immediately provide evidence for his claims.
Ukrainian armed forces spokesman Valerii Shershen acknowledged “increased activity” in the Zaporizhzhia region, but added that he “would not call it serious.”
Keaten reports from Kyiv. Illia Novikov in Kyiv, Joanna Kozlowska in London, Elise Morton in Thessaloniki, Greece, Yuras Karmanau in Tallinn, Estonia, and Hanna Arhirova in Warsaw, Poland contributed.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine