Residents in southern Ukraine are braced for a second day of swelling floodwaters as authorities warned that a Dnieper River dam breach would continue to unleash pent-up waters from a giant reservoir.
Officials said the waters are expected to rise following Tuesday’s dramatic rupture of the Kakhovka dam, about 44 miles to the east of the city of Kherson, but are not flowing with the same speed and intensity.
Ukraine has accused Russian forces of blowing up the dam and adjoining hydroelectric power station, which sits in an area Moscow has controlled for more than a year.
Russian officials blamed Ukrainian bombardment in the contested area, where the river separates the two sides.
Some local residents spent the night on rooftops. Others, scrambling to flee the rising waters, were evacuated by buses and trains with the belongings they could carry.
“The intensity of floods is slightly decreasing,” Oleksandr Prokudin, the head of Kherson Regional Military administration, said in a video. “However, due to the significant destruction of the dam, the water will keep coming.”
He said more than 1,800 houses were flooded along the Dnieper and that almost 1,500 people had been evacuated.
Residents sloshed through knee-deep waters in their inundated homes as videos posted on social media showed rescue workers carrying people to safety, and an aerial video of waters filling the streets of Russian-controlled Nova Kakhovska on the eastern side of the river.
Nova Kakhovska’s Russia-appointed mayor, Vladimir Leontyev, said seven people were missing but early signs indicated that they could be alive.
Officials in Russia-controlled parts of Kherson region said 900 Nova Kalhovka residents were evacuated, including 17 rescued from the tops of flooded buildings.
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a Washington think tank, noted its earlier assessment that “the Russians have a greater and clearer interest in flooding the lower Dnieper despite the damage to their own prepared defensive positions”.
Amid speculation that Ukraine may have secretly started its long-anticipated counter-offensive, the ISW said Russian forces may think breaching the dam could cover a possible retreat and delay Ukraine’s push.
Experts noted that the dam, about 44 miles to the east of the city of Kherson, was believed to be in disrepair and vulnerable to collapse as water was already brimming over when the wall gave way. It had not been producing power since November, according to officials.
The UK’s Ministry of Defence, which regularly issues updates about the war, said the Kakhovka reservoir was at “record high” water levels before the breach.
While the dam was not entirely washed away, the MoD warned that its structure “is likely to deteriorate further over the next few days, causing additional flooding”.
Together with the power station, the dam helps provide electricity, irrigation and drinking water to a wide section of southern Ukraine, including the Crimean Peninsula, which was illegally annexed by Russia in 2014.
Government and UN officials have warned of a human and ecological disaster whose repercussions will take days to assess and far longer to recover from.
The dam break, which both sides had long feared, added a new dimension to Russia’s war, now in its 16th month.
Ukrainian forces were widely seen to be moving forward with a long-anticipated counteroffensive in patches along more than 621 miles of front line in the east and south.