Dam break on the Dnieper leaves hundreds of thousands of people in Ukraine without drinking water | International

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Flooded towns and fields, rescues in rubber boats, victims trying to save their belongings in plastic bags. The breach of the Nova Kakhovka dam on the Dnieper River has left a devastated landscape in southern Ukraine, where at least 5,900 people have been displaced on both banks. Nearly 1,900 people have been evacuated in the Ukrainian-controlled area, according to kyiv authorities. In the Russian-occupied territories, more than 4,000 people have been relocated to other locations, according to authorities loyal to Moscow. In a first assessment of the disaster, the Ukrainian government estimates that some 10,000 hectares of agricultural land have been flooded; at least 20,000 homes and businesses are without electricity and "hundreds of thousands" of those affected do not have access to drinking water. And the catastrophe is not over: a total of 80 towns, in which some 42,000 people reside, are at risk of flooding. In addition, according to the predictions of the Ukrainian Executive, 500,000 arable hectares (around 2% of the country's agricultural land) may become "deserts" due to irrigation problems.

The kyiv and Moscow authorities continue to blame each other for destroying the dam. So far, they have not reported fatalities, although they have reported a dozen missing, seven in the area under Russian control and three in the area still in Ukrainian hands. All this in the midst of the plans for the expected counteroffensive in Ukraine, which Russia has already started, but about which kyiv does not confirm anything. The immense Dnieper River, which separates the two armies in Kherson, some 60 kilometers from the dam, is one of the key scenarios for this great military operation.

The Minister of Infrastructure, Oleksandr Kubrakov, has warned during a visit to the area of ​​the danger of the movement of mines, the spread of diseases and the mixture of chemical substances with the water, reports the Reuters agency. At some points, according to the regional governor of Kherson, Oleksandr Prokudin, the water exceeds five meters and the rescue services have to move in boats. On the eastern bank of the Dnieper, in the zone occupied by Russia, the feeling of chaos is growing among the population and the fear of epidemic outbreaks due to the massive death of animals and the flooding of cemeteries. For their part, the authorities imposed by the Kremlin in the area promise those affected a payment of 10,000 to 50,000 rubles (between 115 and 570 euros), "depending on the degree of damage" suffered in their homes, reports Javier G. Cuesta.

In addition to the human and environmental catastrophe, the collapse of the infrastructure also raises fears that it will affect the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe and located on the banks of the Dnieper. For now, the plant, which depends on the adequate level of water for its cooling, has not suffered any problems, as confirmed by the kyiv government.

"Currently, there is no direct threat," also highlights the Ministry of Energy through a statement referring to the nuclear power plant. It is "unlikely" that these facilities will have "immediate additional security problems", according to the UK's secret services, which monitor daily the most critical aspects of security in the invaded country.

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Although the water from Nova Kakhovka is essential to cool the reactors at the Zaporizhia plant, initially, "there is no imminent risk to safety," the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on Tuesday. Raphael Grossi. Aware in any case of the importance of the enclave, occupied by the Russian military and a constant scene of combat, Grossi will travel next week to the plant, where an IAEA mission has been monitoring the site since last September. The water level in the dam is normally at 16 meters. If it drops below 13.2, there is a danger that the refrigeration system will not be able to respond, according to the Ukrainian Ministry of the Environment.

Those of the Zaporizhia power plant are the most critical facilities and the ones that cause the most concern since the incident at dawn on Tuesday. According to the Ministry of Energy, the incident has also flooded 129 transformer substations in Kherson, as well as two solar power plants in the Mykolaiv region.

As of Wednesday morning, 1,852 houses have been flooded on the western bank of the Dnieper, most of them in the Korabel district south of the city of Kherson, according to the regional governor. The western one is the shore that has been under Ukrainian control since the local Armed Forces managed to drive out the Russians seven months ago.

This Wednesday morning, a day and a half after the dam broke, the water level had dropped 2.5 meters and surrounding areas continued to be flooded, although at a slower rate than Tuesday, according to the public company Ukrhydroenergo, which manages hydroelectric power plants. The national railway company, Ukrzaliznytsia, organized an evacuation device in the early hours that operated from the city of Kherson to Mikolaiv, but the absence of large population groups in the areas affected by the incident does not make it necessary to charter special convoys, they explained. to EL PAÍS company sources.

The kyiv authorities insist on holding the Russian occupation forces responsible for a deliberate attack to destroy the dam. “Russian terrorists have once again shown that they are a threat to every living thing. The destruction of one of the largest water reserves in Ukraine is absolutely deliberate, ”said the president, Volodymyr Zelensky, through his Twitter social network profile. “This is one of the most terrible terrorist acts of this war,” Minister Kubrakov declared during his visit to Kherson. In addition, Ukraine describes what happened as "ecocide". Zelensky's team has published a video showing dead fish on the banks of the Dnieper.

The floods benefit, at first glance, the Russian troops, according to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a United States center that does not have, however, data to determine who is behind the break. "Widening the Dnieper river and complicating the Ukrainian counteroffensive attempts" could be a tactic sought by the Kremlin military, he points out in his daily report.

Kherson is also one of the most heavily mined regions in the current war. The International Committee of the Red Cross has warned this Wednesday of the danger that the water will move the mines that remain to be removed, as well as the signage placed to alert the population and not to access the uncleaned areas.

Nova Kajovka is a strategic enclave that Russian troops have occupied since last year. The supply of water to the population of the Crimean peninsula, which Russia has occupied since 2014, depends to a large extent on these facilities. The tension has been evident there for months. The local army took control of the regional capital, Kherson, located some 60 kilometers below, near the mouth of the Black Sea, in November. That counteroffensive managed to expel the invading troops from the right bank, but in all these months, despite trying, they have not managed to regain control of Nova Kajovka.

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