UN Says at Least 16K Lost Homes in Dam Breach

Ukrainians scramble to escape floodwaters
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 6, 2023 7:20 PM CDT
Ukrainians Scramble to Escape Floodwaters
Iryna Sokeryna holds her daughter Liubov Sokeryna as they take cover from Russian shelling while being evacuated from a flooded neighborhood in Kherson, Ukraine, Tuesday, June 6, 2023.   (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

As shelling from Russia’s war on Ukraine echoed overhead, dozens of evacuees on an island in the Dnieper River scurried onto the tops of military trucks or into rafts to flee rising floodwaters caused by the breach of a dam upstream. A stalled military truck stuck in swelling waters raised the panic level as Red Cross teams tried to manage an orderly evacuation. Nobody knew just how high the waters rushing through a gaping hole in the Kakhovka dam would rise, or whether people or pets would escape alive. The scrambled evacuation by boat and military truck from an island neighborhood off the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson downstream on Tuesday testified to the latest human chaos caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine, the AP reports.

Ukrainian authorities accused Russian forces of purposely destroying the dam. Russian authorities blamed recent Ukrainian military strikes. "The Russians have hit the dam, and didn’t think of consequences," said Oleksandr Sokeryn, who fled his house with his family after it was completely flooded. "They should not be forgiven." Officials on both sides said the massive dam breach had caused no civilian casualties, and the hurried escape was aimed to keep it that way. The island neighborhood was one residential area in the direct slipstream of Tuesday's catastrophe, which experts said was expected to play out over days as pent-up waters from the Kakhovka reservoir wash their way unhindered on way to the Black Sea.

It could take days to know the real toll and damage. In the early morning, before the floodwaters arrived, many residents tried to stick it out. But as the water level climbed in the streets, rising nearly to the tops of bus stops or the second floor of buildings, national guard teams and emergency crews fanned out to retrieve people who got stranded. Officials said about 22,000 people live in areas at risk of flooding in Russian-controlled areas on the eastern side of the river, while 16,000 live in the most critical zone in Ukrainian-held territory on the western side—areas like those evacuated on Tuesday.

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The United Nations said at least 16,000 people have already lost their homes, and efforts are underway to provide water, money, and legal and emotional support to those affected. "While towns and villages in downstream Dnieper River are going under water, the human and environmental cost of the destruction of the Kakhovka dam is a huge humanitarian disaster—and the international community must unite to bring those responsible to justice," said Amnesty International’s regional director for Eastern Europe Marie Struthers. (Read more Russia-Ukraine war stories.)

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