Zelenskyy’s office said Moscow's forces also continued to shell Ukrainian-held areas near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, which is under Russian control. The high water brought new misery and death to a country suffering uncounted casualties after 15 months of war.
Russian forces Thursday shelled a southern Ukrainian city inundated by flooding in a catastrophic dam collapse, Ukrainian officials said, forcing a suspension of some rescue efforts hours after President Volodymyr Zelenskyy went to the area to assess the damage.
The fresh fighting returned security issues to the region, two days after the collapse of the Kakhovka dam on the Dnieper River set off a scramble to evacuate residents in dozens of flooded areas and get aid to those still there.
Officials on both sides said at least 14 people were killed in the flooding, thousands are homeless and tens of thousands are without drinking water after the collapse. Kyiv accused Moscow of blowing up the dam and its associated hydropower plant, which the Kremlin's forces controlled, while Russia said Ukraine bombarded it.
The ensuing flooding has ruined crops, displaced land mines, wrought widespread environmental damage, and set the stage for long-term electricity shortages.
Upriver from the dam, a supply of water used to cool Europe's largest nuclear power plant was nearing critically low levels, Ukraine’s state hydroelectric company said. But the UN atomic energy watchdog said Wednesday that work was underway to ensure the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant had enough water in reserve to cool its shut-down reactors, in case supplies fell too much.
Vladimir Leontyev, the Kremlin-installed mayor of Nova Kakhovka, a Russian-occupied city adjacent to the dam, told Russian state TV that five residents there had died in the flooding. And Mykolaiv regional Gov. Vitalii Kim said one person had died in that region northwest of the city of Kherson.
Yevhen Ryshchuk, the mayor of Oleshky to the south who fled the town after the Russians took over, told The Associated Press that residents told him eight people had died so far in the flooding, with corpses floating to the surface. His tally could not immediately be verified.
Residents of Oleshky have accused Russian authorities in the town of not doing enough to help civilians, and they have formed a group of over 8,000 that is sharing messages about information such as stranded and trapped locals.
Ryshchuk said that Russian forces are not letting people leave and are instead confiscating boats from residents and volunteers. This was confirmed by two volunteers, who told AP that the Russian military was taking away boats brought by volunteers. Volunteer Yaroslav Vasiliev said the Russian military seized three boats from volunteers on Wednesday.
From afar, relatives of Oleshky residents said Russian forces were only evacuating Russian passport holders there.
“My relatives said Russian soldiers were coming up to the house today by boat, but they said they would only take those with Russian passports,” said Viktoria Mironova-Baka.
In the city of Kherson, the largest municipality affected, Russian shelling echoed not far from a square where emergency crews and volunteers were dispensing aid. Nine people were wounded, including two emergency workers, a police officer, a doctor and a volunteer from Germany.
As shells landed in floodwaters, rescuers suspended efforts to reach stranded residents and pets in an area that Zelenskyy had visited only hours earlier, officials said.
“The strikes began during the evacuation of the residents, whose houses were flooded,” Internal Affairs Ministry said. “Russia has abandoned people in calamity in the occupied part of Kherson region. It continues to prevent Ukraine from saving the most valuable — human lives.”
Zelenskyy visited an aid distribution point and a medical facility in Kherson, ordering officials to provide a “fair valuation” of the devastation to compensate residents, his office said in an update.
Russian President Vladimir Putin “has no plans at the current moment” to visit the affected Moscow-occupied areas, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.