Ukraine says Russia is shelling flooded civilian areas around Kherson even as efforts to evacuate thousands from rising waters unleashed by the bombing of a major hydroelectric dam threatens lives.
A spokesman for the Ukrainian government said they were being careful not to shell civilians in flooded areas south of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power dam on the Dnipro River towards Kherson, and that claims their forces were impeding evacuations are Russian falsehoods. Army southern command press officer Natalia Humeniuk said, per Kyiv, that “…[Russia’s] shelling continues.
“The enemy continues to shell the right bank, continues to terrorize civilians even in the face of humanitarian evacuation… [Russia] did not stop shelling the right bank and directly during the evacuation, and the work of police and rescue teams with the local population, they fired on those areas of Kherson that were flooded.”
Russian terrorists have once again proved that they are a threat to everything living. The destruction of one of the largest water reservoirs in Ukraine is absolutely deliberate. At least 100 thousand people lived in these areas before the Russian invasion. At least tens of… pic.twitter.com/ISjIwKc2QN
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) June 7, 2023
In the language of the Ukrainian war, shelling has expanded beyond meaning just traditional artillery fire, but also mortars and indirect rocket systems. In the case of the claimed overnight shelling of civilians escaping floodwaters, Humeniuk specifically cited mortars as well as “guided aerial bombs”.
Ukraine says the evacuation of the Kherson region continues, and the water level will continue to rise, perhaps by as much as another meter, a major issue in regions where many buildings are already underwater. Russia on the other hand claims the flood has already peaked and is now receeding, with one village seeing water levels reached 12 meters in one settlement.
Water purification tablets have been distributed to citizens, the government says, as regular sources become contaminated.
Writing on social media, Ukrainian President Voloymyr Zelensky again lashed out at what he called “Russian terrorists”, saying: ” The destruction of one of the largest water reservoirs in Ukraine is absolutely deliberate… This once again demonstrates the cynicism with which Russia treats the people whose land it has captured and what Russia really brings to Europe and the world.”
Talking up accusations of war crimes, Zelensky said: “The whole world knows about this Russian war crime, the crime of ecocide… Russian terrorists have detonated an environmental bomb of mass destruction.”
While it is not yet clear how the Kakhovka dam was destroyed on Tuesday morning, it is clear that its breach will likely cause enormous damage to the settlements downstream, and likely to Ukraine’s long-term economic and agricultural recovery as well. Both sides have accused one another of destroying it, both claiming the other’s war aims are served by the bombing, but many of Ukraine’s Western allies have joined together to condemn Russia for the act.
Shrugging off responsibility, Russia has said they want an international investigation into the dam breach and said the Western reaction of blaming Moscow was “100% predictable”. They also accused the Ukrainians of bombing evacuating civilians, saying a drone dropped an “improvised explosive device” and that civilians “just barely missed being killed or wounded”.
So far, no official claims of deaths from the flood have been made, particularly of civilians, although the Daily Telegraph cited Ukrainian sources claiming some Russian soldiers were “flooded” and some were “killed or wounded”.