Villages and fields flooded, rescues in rubber boats, affected trying to save their belongings in plastic bags. The rupture of the Nova Kakhovka dam on the Dnieper River has left a landscape of desolation in southern Ukraine, where at least 1,450 people have been evacuated by flooding in areas controlled by the Ukrainian government. In the Russian-occupied territories, some 1,300 people have been rehoused in other locations, according to Russian media. In a first assessment of the disaster, Kiev estimates that some 10,000 hectares of agricultural land have been flooded; At least 20,000 homes and businesses are without electricity and "hundreds of thousands" of affected people do not have access to drinking water. And the catastrophe is not over: a total of 80 localities, where some 42,000 people reside, are at risk of flooding. In addition, according to the predictions of the Ukrainian Executive, 500,000 arable hectares (around 2% of the country's agricultural land) may become "deserts" due to irrigation problems.
Authorities in Kiev and Moscow continue to blame each other for destroying the dam. At the moment, they have not reported fatalities, although they have reported a dozen missing, seven in an area under Russian control and three in which it remains in Ukrainian hands. All this in the midst of the plans of the expected counteroffensive of Ukraine, which Russia has already begun, but about which Kiev does not confirm anything. The immense Dnieper, which separates both armies in Kherson, about 60 kilometers from the dam, is one of the scenarios that is supposed to be key to this great military operation.
The Minister of Infrastructure, Oleksandr Kubrakov, has warned during a visit to the area of the danger of the movement of mines, the spread of diseases and the mixture of chemical substances with water, reports Reuters. At some points, according to the regional governor of Kherson, Oleksandr Prokudin, the water exceeds five meters and rescue services have to move in boats. On the eastern bank of the Dnieper, in the area occupied by Russia, there is a growing sense of chaos among the population and the fear of epidemic outbreaks due to the massive death of animals and the flooding of cemeteries. For its part, the authorities imposed by the Kremlin in the area promise those affected a payment of 10,000 to 50,000 rubles (between 115 and 570 euros), "depending on the degree of damage" suffered in their homes, reports Javier G. Cuesta.
In addition to the human and environmental catastrophe, the collapse of the infrastructure also raises fears that it will affect the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe and located on the banks of the Dnieper. So far, the plant, which depends on the right level of water for cooling, has not suffered problems, as confirmed by the Kiev government.
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"Currently, there is no direct threat," the Ministry of Energy also highlights through a statement referring to the nuclear power plant. Those facilities are "unlikely" to have "immediate additional security problems," according to the U.K.'s secret services, which monitor the most critical aspects of security in the invaded country on a daily basis.
Although water from Nova Kakhovka is essential to cool reactors at the Zaporizhia plant, initially, "there is no imminent safety risk," International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director Rafael Grossi said Tuesday. Aware in any case of the importance of the enclave, occupied by Russian military and constant scene of fighting, Grossi will travel next week to the plant, where an IAEA mission has been monitoring the site since last September. The water level in the dam is normally in the 16 meters. If it drops below 13.2, there is a danger that the cooling system will not be able to respond, according to the Ministry of Environment of Ukraine.
A local resident swims next to a house in a flooded area in Kherson on Wednesday. OLEXANDER KORNYAKOV (AFP)
Flooded streets in the city of Kherson, this Wednesday. Libkos (AP)
An elderly woman cries after being evacuated in the city of Kherson on Wednesday. Roman Hrytsyna (AP)
Aerial view of flooded streets in the city of Kherson on Wednesday. Libkos (AP)
A resident walks through the courtyard of his flooded home in the town of Nova Kakhovka in the Kherson region on Wednesday. ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO (REUTERS)
A woman watches the Dnipro River rise as it passes through Kherson on Wednesday. Vladyslav Musiienko (REUTERS)
A flora slipper in a residential area in the town of Nova Kakhovka in the Kherson region on Wednesday. ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO (REUTERS)
A man uses a paddle board to move down a flooded street in Kherson. Roman Hrytsyna (AP)
A man evacuates a cow on Tuesday in Kherson. Global Images Ukraine (Global Images Ukraine via Getty)
Several people watch the Dnipro River as it passes through Kherson on Tuesday. STRINGER (REUTERS)
The House of Culture of Kherson flooded, this Tuesday. TASS (via REUTERS)
The Nova Kakhovka dam collapsed on Tuesday. TASS (via REUTERS)
Aerial view of a flooded Kherson street, after the collapse of the dam. Global Images Ukraine (Global Images Ukraine via Getty)
Two people try to cycle across a flooded street in Kherson on Tuesday. Associated Press/LaPresse
Satellite image of the Nova Kakhovka dam on Tuesday. AP
A woman holds her pets in her flooded home in Kherson.Evgeniy Maloletka (AP)
Images of the damage at the Nova Kakhovka dam, located in southeastern Ukraine, on Tuesday. Reuters
Water runs through the large gap in the Nova Kakhovka dam on Tuesday. AP
Destruction at the Nova Kakhovka dam, in an aerial image taken on Tuesday. AP
A man watches the water run sitting on a bench on the outskirts of Kherson, partially flooded after the dam burst. SERGIY DOLLAR (AFP)
Evacuation at a train station in Kherson province on Tuesday due to the collapse of the dam. Nina Lyashonok (AP)
An area of Kherson province partially flooded after damage to the Nova Kakhovka dam.SERGIY DOLLAR (AFP)
Those of the Zaporizhia plant are the most critical and worrying facilities since the incident in the early hours of Tuesday. According to the Ministry of Energy, the incident has also flooded 129 transformer substations in Kherson, as well as two solar power plants in the Mikolaiv region.
As of Wednesday morning, 1,852 houses have been flooded on the western bank of the Dnieper, mostly in the Korabel district, south of Kherson city, according to the regional governor. The western shore is under Ukrainian control since the local armed forces managed to expel the Russians seven months ago.
On Wednesday morning, a day and a half after the dam burst, the water level had dropped 2.5 meters and areas of the surroundings continued to flood, although at a lower rate than on Tuesday, according to the public company Ukrhydroenergo, which manages the hydroelectric plants. The national railway company, Ukrzaliznytsia, organized in the early hours an evacuation device that operated from the city of Kherson to Mikolaiv, but the absence of large population groups in the areas affected by the incident does not make it necessary to charter special convoys, company sources explained to EL PAÍS.
The Kiev authorities insist on holding Russian occupation forces responsible for a deliberate attack to destroy the dam. "Russian terrorists have proven once again that they are a threat to every living thing. The destruction of one of Ukraine's largest water reserves is absolutely deliberate," President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Twitter. "This is one of the most terrible terrorist acts of this war," Minister Kubrakov said during his visit to Kherson. In addition, Ukraine describes what happened as "ecocide". Zelenskiy's team has released a video showing dead fish on the bank of the Dnieper.
The floods benefit, at first glance, Russian troops, according to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a U.S. center that does not have, however, data to determine who is behind the rupture. "Widening the Dnieper River and complicating Ukrainian counteroffensive attempts" could be a tactic sought by the Kremlin military, it notes in its daily report.
Kherson is also one of the regions most mined in the current war. The International Committee of the Red Cross has warned on Wednesday of the danger of water moving the mines that remain to be removed, as well as the signage placed to alert the population and not to access the uncleaned areas.
Nova Kakhovka is a strategic enclave occupied by Russian troops since last year. These facilities largely depend on the water supply to the population of the Crimean peninsula, which Russia has occupied since 2014. The tension has been evident there for months. The local army took control last November of the regional capital, Kherson, located about 60 kilometers below, near the mouth of the Black Sea. That counteroffensive managed to expel the invading troops from the right bank, but in all these months, despite trying, they have not managed to regain control of Nova Kakhovka.
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