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Russia-Ukraine War Updates: Zelensky Visits Kherson Region Flooded by Dam

KHERSON REGION, Ukraine — A house. A child’s bed. A dead cow and a ruined car. They are evidence of lives upended by the Kakhovka dam’s destruction, gently drifting out into the Black Sea.

Natalia Kamenetska, who lives on a bluff overlooking the Dnipro River, around 60 miles downstream from the ruined dam, has watched from the shore as the waters in front of her slowly rose, the devastation upriver hinted at in the debris floating past.

“Everything washes by,” she said.

Her village, Stanislav, was under Russian occupation until last fall. It has been bombarded repeatedly by Russian forces since they were forced to retreat when Ukrainian troops recaptured territory in the Kherson region.

Evidence of the fighting is all around her. Burned-out tanks and armored vehicles line the road on the way to her home. Just outside the village, the tail of an unexploded S-300 Russian missile rises out of an emerald-green lagoon. Another missile is embedded in a field of red poppies and wildflowers.

A destroyed vehicle and a grave marker along the roadside near what was the front line for many months in Mykolaiv.Credit…Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times
The tail of an unexploded S-300 Russian missile in OleksandrivkaCredit…Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

But it was not an explosion that awoke Ms. Kamenetska on Wednesday. It was her husband, who pointed out the window at what he thought was a house floating past. By Wednesday afternoon, a dozen houses dislodged by flooding upstream could be seen from the shores of southern Kherson, like bobbing buoys across the delta.

Before the war, she said, the river brought communities together as a common source of food and recreation. Now it is a front line that divides Ukrainian friends and families, the west bank held by Ukraine and the east bank held by Russian forces.

“For me, it’s despair that we can’t help people who have been waiting there,” Ms. Kamenetska said, referring to those stranded by floodwaters on the Russian-controlled side. “They were waiting for liberation but now they’re suffering.”

Mykola Shuliuk, 68, lives a few miles away from Stanislav in the coastal village of Lupareve, in the neighboring Mykolaiv region. Though his village was never occupied by Russia, it was on the front line for months, when he spent long stretches hiding in basement bunkers.

Mr. Shuliuk, who helped clean up the fallout at the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the 1980s, said that the effects of the dam disaster would only worsen.

“I just saw cars, horses, cows were floating,” said Mykola Shuliuk, who lives in Lupareve.Credit…Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

“I just saw cars, horses, cows were floating,” he said. “It’s a horror.”

He wore old army fatigues, a hat celebrating the sinking of the Russian warship Moskva early in the war, and sneakers with the colors of the Ukrainian flag on the sides.

“This is a catastrophe not only for us but for the whole world,” he said. “It’s about flora, fauna, animals, fish, everything.”

Echoing statements from Ukraine’s leaders, he said he has no doubt that Moscow was responsible for the destruction of the dam, which is under Russian control. Russia has offered contradictory accounts about what happened at the dam, blaming Ukraine for the disaster without offering evidence.

Andriy, a Ukrainian soldier engaged in active service who gave only his first name, said he had been unable to reach his father, who is living under Russian occupation in Nova Kakhovka, a city adjacent to the dam.

“It’s terrible,” he said. “I can’t even watch the videos. The House of Culture, the zoo, the river bank where the college graduates used to celebrate the last day of studies around this time of the year — all are under the water.”

Evelina Riabenko and Anna Lukinova contributed reporting.

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Mohammad SHiblu

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