Vladimir Putin’s regime has been accused of leaving civilians to die on the occupied east bank of the Dnipro river, as surging floodwater caused by the destruction of a dam left thousands pleading for help on rooftops.
Denys Shmyhal, Ukraine’s prime minister, called on the Red Cross to step in to save tens of thousands of people who had been abandoned by local Russian authorities.
“The Russian occupiers don’t even make an effort to help these people, they have left them to perish,” he said in a video posted on Telegram.
While Ukraine reels from its worst man-made disaster since Chernobyl, it is the Russian-controlled east bank that has borne the brunt of the damage, according to satellite images and video footage.
Residents of the occupied town of Oleshky, around 30 miles from the burst Nova Kakhovka dam, were filmed rowing to safety or waving from windows as they told relatives nobody had come to rescue them.
In the neighbouring Kherson region, Russian occupying authorities said they had evacuated 1,500 people and set up temporary housing for twice that number.
Ukraine has said 42,000 people need evacuation, with around half that number on the Russian side of the river.
State-controlled television inside Russia praised the rescue effort as a reporter broadcast while rowing a boat through flooded streets.
Putin blamed Ukraine for the “barbaric act” of destroying the dam in a call with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, president of Turkey, saying it had triggered a “massive environmental and humanitarian disaster”. He said that Kyiv had organised the explosion at the behest of its Western allies.
The Russian president’s remarks, more than 24 hours after floodwater tore through southern Ukraine, came amid reports that Russian units had been swept away in the deluge.
Capt Andrei Pidlisnyi, a Ukrainian officer, told CNN that “no one on the Russian side was able to get away” when the dam burst on Tuesday morning. His troops were able to observe the carnage from the other side of the river and through the use of drones, he said. The loss of the Russian units suggested Moscow had not warned its soldiers ahead of the flood, Capt Pidlisnyi added, blaming Russia for blowing up the dam.
Social media footage from Russian-occupied territory showed submerged neighbourhoods and people waving to drones through windows in their roofs.
“Russians are saying they’re organising an evacuation but where are the boats? Why did no one send in the boats for them?” said Nataliya, a native of Oleshky, who fled to Ukrainian-controlled territory earlier this year.
She said her husband’s parents, who still live there, had escaped in a dinghy. Others weren’t as lucky, she added.
“A friend’s godfather has an elderly grandma – they wanted to take her but she was already dead.” Videos emerging on Wednesday showed civilians rowing boats out of Oleshky as water lapped at corrugated roofs.
“Well, here is the left bank”, said a man in one video. “These guys are our rescuers. Please God get us out of here.”
Ukraine’s general staff on Wednesday said Russian troops had blocked evacuation efforts and shelled citizens fleeing Kherson.
The Red Cross, which had not responded to the request for aid from Ukraine’s prime minister on Wednesday night, warned that landmines were floating in the floodwater.
“We knew where the hazards were [before the dam burst],” said Erik Tollefsen, head of the weapon contamination unit at the International Committee of the Red Cross. “Now we don’t know.”
Emmanuel Macron, the French president, on Wednesday promised he would send aid “in the next few hours” to meet “immediate needs”.
Relatives of Oleshky residents have posted pleas for help on an online map, highlighting positions of family members. “Two people in the cellar, knee-deep in water”, reads one update, “Solontsy, 54 Zarechnaya, an old man with three dogs” goes another.
Yuliana, a mother of two from Kherson who fled to Germany last year, said she had lost contact with her two sisters in the village of Solontsy, just south of Oleshky.
The last thing she heard from the two women, aged 53 and 47, they were in the cellar of their two-storey home with water already knee deep.
Yuliana said she was called by a friend’s neighbour on Wednesday, saying they saw her sisters being evacuated by locals in a dinghy.
“No help was coming (from Russia) at all,” she said. “It’s just ordinary people who have found rubber boats somewhere and have been helping others.” Yuliana said her sisters had tried to escape Solontsy on Tuesday as soon as the dam broke but were turned back by Russian troops.
“The sisters said the [military] simply told the car to turn back and go,” she said. The Telegraph has not been able to verify the reports, which were echoed by reports in the opposition-aligned Russian media.
‘Likely many deaths’
Washington warned there would be “likely many deaths” but on Wednesday there was no update from Ukrainian or Russian authorities.
Vladimir Leontyev, the Russian-installed mayor of Nova Kakhovka, said 100 people were trapped in the town and thousands of wild animals had been killed, in comments carried by the RIA state news agency.
He said 30,000 cubic metres of water was pouring into the town every second and it was at risk of contamination from the floods.
Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, said hundreds of thousands of people had been left without drinking water across the disaster zone, with tens of thousands stranded.
One artillery unit released footage of one of its drones, normally used for targeting Russian troops, delivering bottles of water to a trapped local.
“The biggest problem is the occupied area. It is apocalyptic,” said Olia Hercules, a chef and author who grew up in Nova Kakhovka.
Ms Hercules, who has been unable to contact relatives on the left bank for over a month said: “They are saying it is particularly bad in Oleshky and the nearby villages. They are saying there are bodies floating in the water.”
Yuliana, who often visited Solontsy, sobbed: “It was a beautiful, prosperous village. It just doesn’t exist anymore.”