Dozens of Ukrainians in the path of devastating floodwaters from a breached dam evacuated under the echoes of Russian shelling on Wednesday, as the U.S. State Department estimates that 20,000 people will need to relocate.
The rising floodwaters let loose from the ruptured Kakhovka dam forced residents of Kherson, an island in the Dnieper River, to evacuate by boat and military truck in the latest act of destruction and chaos caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Ukrainian authorities accused Russian forces of purposely destroying the dam. Russian authorities blamed recent Ukrainian military strikes. Officials on both sides said there have been no civilian casualties.
Water levels in Kherson rose nearly to the tops of bus stops and the second floor of buildings. Those left stranded were rescued by national guard teams and emergency crews.
The U.S. State Department said there is still no conclusive information about what caused the Kakhovka dam to collapse on Tuesday.
U.S. officials said 16,000 Ukrainians face immediate flood risk, while an estimated 20,000 need to relocate because of the damage and destruction.
“This flooding as a result of this puts not only homes, farms and civilians at risk, but it also creates another challenge to maintaining safety in and around… the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant,” a spokesperson noted.
Kherson, which was liberated by Ukrainian forces last fall, has already seen some of the worst from Russia’s campaign against Ukraine – alleged rape, arbitrary killings, and enforced disappearances during months of Russian occupation.
On Wednesday, shelling regularly continued from across the nearby front line demarcated by the river.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.