KHERSON, Ukraine (AP) — Five residents of a Russian-held town next to a broken dam have died in massive flooding triggered by the disaster, the Kremlin-appointed mayor said Thursday, the first official report of deaths from one of the largest Environmental disasters Crises since Russia invaded Ukraine more than 15 months ago.
Vladimir Leontiev, the Russian-appointed mayor of Nova Kakhovka, told Russian state television that two other people had disappeared dam burst on Tuesday They had been found and efforts were being made to evacuate them.
Officials say at least 4,000 people have been evacuated from both the Russian- and Ukrainian-controlled side of the Dnieper River, which has become part of the front line between the armed forces.
On the Ukrainian-controlled west bank, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy arrived on Thursday to assess the response to the damage caused by the dam collapse. On his Telegram account, he wrote that he was helping to assess efforts to evacuate civilians, provide them with drinking water and other assistance, and try to stem enormous environmental damage.
Zelenskyi also held out the prospect of financial support for residents and businesses displaced from their homes and offices by the rising waters.
Regional Governor Oleksandr Prokudin said the average height of flooding in the region was more than 5.6 meters (18 ft) as of Thursday morning and about 600 square kilometers (231 sq mi) of the region was inundated – more than two-thirds of it on the Russian island – controlled east bank.
The true extent of the disaster is yet to be seen in an affected area that has been home to more than 60,000 people.
The dam and associated reservoir, vital to southern Ukraine’s freshwater and irrigation supplies, lies in the Kherson region, which Moscow illegally annexed in September — and parts of which Russian forces have occupied for a year.
The reservoir is also vital to the water supply of the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014.
French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted that the dam’s destruction was an “assault” and a “cruel act” without saying who was responsible. Paris said it is providing relief supplies such as water purifiers, 500,000 water purification tablets and hygiene kits to help people displaced by the disaster.
Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of deliberately demolishing the dam, which is in an area controlled by Russian forces.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, a key ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, backed Russia’s claim that Ukraine blew up the dam to distract from what she called a failed Ukrainian attempt to launch a counteroffensive.
“They had to cover up the three days of their ‘counteroffensive’ in which they lost nearly 200 armored vehicles and more than 2,000 soldiers,” he said during Thursday’s meeting with officials. “So it’s all about Kachowka, and nobody talks about it. It’s pretty obvious.”