In KHERSON, Ukraine, exclusive aerial drone footage reveals the profound impact of a collapsed Ukrainian dam and the submergence of nearby villages under Russian occupation, with no evident signs of human activity.
The Associated Press team conducted an overflight of the devastation using a drone on Wednesday, following the destruction of the Kakhovka dam on the Dnieper River. The surviving structures peaking above the surging waters did not exhibit the characteristic signs of overhead bombardments, such as burn marks or shrapnel-inflicted damages.
Russia has leveled accusations against Ukraine for destroying the dam under Russian control, while Ukraine has countered that Russia was responsible for the internal demolition.
The demolition of the dam, situated in a region under Moscow’s control for over a year, along with the resultant drainage of its reservoir, has fundamentally transformed the downstream landscape and altered the course of the ongoing 15-month war.
The footage obtained by the Associated Press shows most of the dam structure swallowed by the surging waters. Two neighboring villages, Dnipryany and Korsunka, also under occupation, were substantially inundated, with water reaching the rooftops of residential structures and a strikingly blue church.
The domed rooftops of numerous greenhouses remained visible above the waterline. The images showed no human presence, although AP journalists could hear the anguished cries of dogs stranded by the flood.
The neighboring town of Nova Kakhovka, also under occupation, was less impacted by the flooding but similarly deserted of human and animal life. Its iconic Ferris wheel stood motionless as water encroached onto the town’s main thoroughfare.
Since October of the previous year, Ukraine had voiced concerns that Russian forces had mined the hydroelectric dam. It accused them of igniting an explosion that converted the downstream areas into a sodden wasteland. Russia, in response, claimed that a missile launched by Ukraine struck the dam. Experts have also suggested that the dam’s deteriorated condition could have contributed to its collapse.
No remnants indicative of a missile strike were found in the few surviving structures.
The Dnieper River, part of the war’s frontline, had previously spurred many to evacuate due to the ongoing conflict. Ukraine controls the western bank, while the flood-prone eastern side is under Russian control.
According to Anna Lodygina, a resident of Nova Kakhovka who fled last fall, the flooding has brought life in the occupied town to a standstill, with markets shuttered and minimal electricity and mobile connectivity availability. Russian soldiers who had occupied her family home near the river reportedly fled post the dam’s collapse, with her neighbors indicating that water had now reached the upper level of her two-story house.
She has been informed that Russian forces withdrew without assisting residents, prompting the local population to self-organize and seek shelter further away from the river. As per her account, the historic portion of the city is now underwater, with its current condition unknown.
On the Ukrainian-controlled side, a Red Cross worker has been inundated with pleas for rescue from individuals across the river but is severely limited in the assistance that can be provided.
The phone lines are swamped with calls, not just from well-known contacts but from many sources, including at least 30 calls from the occupied territories just yesterday, said Mykola Tarenenko, the Kherson Red Cross quick response team chief. Without any organized evacuation plan, desperate pleas for evacuation continue to pour in.