By Max Hunder
KHERSON, Ukraine (Reuters) – A senior Ukrainian official warned of the danger posed by floating mines unearthed by flooding and the spread of disease and hazardous chemicals on Wednesday as he inspected damage caused by the collapse of the Kakhovka dam.
Visiting the city of Kherson on the Dnipro river, Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said over 80 settlements had been affected in a disaster which Ukraine and Russia blame on each other.
Although it denies blowing up the dam, Moscow has engaged in a campaign of air strikes against Ukraine’s energy system in which Kyiv says infrastructure of other dams has been damaged.
Blaming the dam’s collapse on Russia, Kubrakov said: “They did it in order to free up troops in this direction by flooding this bit of the frontline.”
Russia said Ukraine sabotaged the dam to distract attention from a new counteroffensive it said was “faltering”.
Regional governor Oleksandr Prokudin said the water had reached a depth of 5.34 metres (17.5 ft) in some places of Kherson, though he said the rise had slowed and could peak by the end of Wednesday.
In Kherson, a large city about 60 km (37 miles) downstream from the destroyed dam, residents have set up makeshift embarkation points for dinghies that police, rescue workers and volunteers are now using to get around.
Kherson faces the Russian-controlled eastern bank of the Dnipro, and some residents have come under fire from Russian artillery as they go about their rescue and recovery work. The thud of artillery is heard almost constantly in the distance.
“Water is disturbing mines that were laid earlier, causing them to explode,” Kubrakov, dressed casually in a grey t-shirt, told reporters. As a result of the flooding, infectious diseases and chemicals were getting into the water, he said.
He said Ukraine had allocated 120 million hryvnias ($3.25 million) allocated to secure the water supply in Mykolaiv, another southern city, and 1.5 billion hryvnias had been set aside to rebuild water supply systems ruined by the flood.
Ukrainian authorities have evacuated people from 24 flooded settlements and at least 20 settlements are flooded on territory occupied by Russian forces, he said.
“We see that the occupation authorities are not evacuating people,” Kubrakov said, calling for the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross to help evacuate flood victims in occupied regions.
Kherson, a city of 279,000 before Russia’s full-scale invasion in February last year, was occupied by Russian forces for over eight months until November.
Kubrakov said the water level in the city had risen by 12-16 cm an hour on Tuesday but was now rising at one-two cm an hour.
“It’s one of the most terrifying terrorist acts of this war,” he said.
($1 = 36.9290 hryvnias)
(Reporting by Max Hunder, Editing by Timothy Heritage)
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