Deluge from ruptured dam is latest tragedy for residents
Yurii, a former Ukrainian soldier, knows all too well about living in his rickety attic: It was here, during Russia’s eight-month occupation of the southern city of Kherson, that he hid to avoid capture by the invaders.
Now, the 51-year-old in fatigues is taking refuge again, after the latest big development in Russia’s war in Ukraine: A breach of the Kakhovka dam upstream on the Dnieper River that sent floodwaters gushing through his home and rising to the low edge of his corrugated metal roof.
The authorities on both sides of the river – Russians control the east bank near the delta, the Ukrainians the west – say thousands of people have lost their homes in the torrential flood, where waters were still rising on Wednesday.
Like many other determined and defiant Ukrainians, Yurii has faced disaster after disaster since Russian forces swept into Ukraine over 15 months ago. Like many, his anger has grown over their perceived disregard for peaceful Ukrainians.
“They do it without pitying us,” he said, clutching one of his three kittens by the scruff of its neck, “specifically against peaceful people.”
“My house has drowned,” said Yurii – nom de guerre ‘Maidan’ – who declined to provide his family name out of concern for possible repercussions if the Russians return. He fought Russians and Russia-backed separatists in a conflict that began in 2014 and escalated into a full-scale war last year.
Kherson was recaptured by Ukrainian forces in November, marking a momentous victory for Ukraine and a humiliating defeat for the Kremlin. The residents of Kherson greeted Ukraine’s army with jubilation, celebrating the liberation of the city for days.
They hold on to hope that the worst is over. Many suffered abuses, tortures, and unjustified detentions during Russia’s occupation. The Ukrainian recapture of Kherson instantly placed the city on the southern front line, facing daily Russian attacks from across the Dnieper River, mostly using artillery or drones.
These relentless strikes frequently target civilian areas, resulting in routine casualty reports. Meanwhile, the majority of the Kherson region, located on the other bank of the Dnieper, remains under Russian occupation.
These days, Yurii gets around using a two-by-four to paddle a makeshift raft cobbled together out of a Styrofoam sheet lashed to a wooden board. He believes the allegation of Ukrainian authorities that Russian forces deliberately destroyed the dam. Russia blames Ukrainian shelling for the breach on Tuesday.
“They (the Russians) cannot do anything against the military, but they can do it against civilians,” said Yurii.
Before the war, Kherson had a population of about 300,000. When the city was liberated in November, only about 80,000 remained. A further 10,000 people left the city after it was retaken because of the constant Russian shelling, local lawmaker Serhii Khlan told Radio Liberty in December.