Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Slow Flood Aid in Occupied Kherson, Russia: Residents Await Help

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The catastrophic dam collapse in Ukraine has left thousands of people stranded and waiting for help. Among them is a group of four people, including a 19-year-old girl and her 83-year-old grandfather, who have been waiting in the attic of a house for days. They have no electricity, no running water, and no food. They are just down the street from the cemetery of their flooded town, Oleshky, which is across the Dnipro river from the city of Kherson. Russian forces are taking rescuers’ boats, and some say the soldiers will only help people with Russian passports. The situation is dire, and help is slow in coming.

Russian soldiers are standing at the checkpoints, preventing rescuers from approaching the most affected areas and taking away the boats. They are afraid of saboteurs and suspect everyone. The group in the attic is afraid that no one will know about their deaths. Everything around them is flooded, and there is still no help. The grandfather, who had suffered a stroke, is running out of medicine, and one woman with them, a neighbor’s grandmother, cannot move on her own.

Details of life in Russian-occupied Ukraine are often unclear. The Associated Press could not independently verify reports of boat seizures or that only Russians were being evacuated, but the account is in line with reporting by independent Russian media. It is a sharp contrast to Ukrainian-controlled territory flooded by the dam collapse. Authorities there have aggressively evacuated civilians and brought in emergency supplies.

This region has suffered terribly since Russia invaded Ukraine early last year, enduring sometimes relentless artillery and missile attacks. The latest disaster began on Tuesday when the Kakhovka hydroelectric dam, roughly 80km upstream from Oleshky, collapsed, sending torrents of water down the Dnipro river and across the war’s front lines. Officials say more than 6,000 people have been evacuated from dozens of inundated cities, towns, and villages on both sides of the river. But the true scale of the disaster remains unclear for a region that was once home to tens of thousands of people.

At least 14 people have died in the flooding, many are homeless, and tens of thousands are without drinking water. The floods ruined crops, displaced land mines, caused widespread environmental damage, and set the stage for long-term electricity shortages. Ukraine says Russia destroyed the dam with explosives. Russia accuses Ukraine of destroying it with a missile attack.

Compounding the tragedy, Russia has been shelling areas hit by the flooding, including the front-line city of Kherson. The floodwaters have irrevocably changed the landscape downstream and shifted the dynamic of the 15-month-old war.

Oleshky Mayor Yevhen Ryshchuk said that by Thursday afternoon water levels were beginning to fall, but roughly 90 percent of the city remained flooded. Ryshchuk fled after Russian forces tried to force him to collaborate, but he remains in close contact with people in and around the city. Russia says it is helping the region’s civilians. Moscow-appointed regional Governor Vladimir Saldo claimed at least 4,000 people had been evacuated from the flood zones. He shared a video showing empty beds in shelters prepared for evacuees. Ryshchuk dismisses such talk.

He said some people trying to leave flooded areas were forced back by Russian soldiers who accused them of being “waiters” – people waiting for Ukraine to reclaim control of the region. Others, who called the Russian-controlled emergency services, were told they would have to wait for help, he said. “That’s it,” he said. “Yesterday, some Russians came in the morning, took a few people off the roofs, filmed a video, and left. That’s everything they have done as of today.”

The help that made it through has been scattered. Ukrainian military footage, for instance, showed their forces dropping a bottle of water from a drone to a boy trapped with his mother and sister in the attic of their home near Oleshky. Ukrainian soldiers later evacuated the family and their pets to the city of Kherson, National Police reported.

Much of the help is being organized by volunteers communicating on the encrypted app Telegram. Messages about stranded people, often trapped on the roofs of their houses, appear in these groups every few minutes. Most are posted by relatives in safer areas. Just one of these volunteer groups has a map showing more than 1,000 requests to locate and rescue people, mostly in Oleshky and the nearby town of Hola Prystan.

A woman helping with one of the groups, who spoke on condition her name not be used for fear of reprisals from the Russian occupiers, shared a message with an AP journalist. “We were looking for a person named Serhii Borzov,” the message read. “He was found. Unfortunately, dead. Our condolences to the relatives.”

In conclusion, the catastrophic dam collapse in Ukraine has left thousands of people stranded and waiting for help. The situation is dire, and help is slow in coming. Russian forces are taking rescuers’ boats, and some say the soldiers will only help people with Russian passports. Details of life in Russian-occupied Ukraine are often unclear. The true scale of the disaster remains unclear for a region that was once home to tens of thousands of people. The floods ruined crops, displaced land mines, caused widespread environmental damage, and set the stage for long-term electricity shortages. Much of the help is being organized by volunteers communicating on the encrypted app Telegram. Messages about stranded people appear in these groups every few minutes.

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