Russian forces have been shooting at Ukrainian rescuers trying to reach flooded areas in the Kherson region that are under Russian control, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Wednesday.
Rescuers are trying to evacuate thousands of people in the flood zone of the Russian-occupied Nova Kakhovka dam and hydro-electric power plant, which collapsed on Tuesday sending torrents of water gushing down the Dnipro River.
Zelensky made the comments in an exclusive interview with German tabloid newspaper Bild published Wednesday.
“People, animals have died. From the roofs of the flooded houses, people see drowned people floating by. You can see that on the other side. It is very difficult to get people out of the occupied part of Kherson region,” Zelensky said.
“When our forces try to get them [the residents] out, they are shot at by occupiers from a distance,” Zelensky told Bild. “As soon as our helpers try to rescue them, they are shot at. We won’t be able to see all the consequences until a few days from now, when the water has trickled down a bit.”
On Wednesday, a volunteer taking part in the rescue efforts in Kherson told CNN volunteers face Russian shelling on nearly every sortie.
“Of course it is extremely dangerous,” said Roman Skabdrakov from the Kaiman Volunteer Group.
The destruction of the dam and subsequent flooding forced more than 1,800 people to flee their homes, inundated thousands of hectares of farmland, threatened vital water supplies and prompted warnings of catastrophic environmental damage from Ukrainian officials and experts.
Kyiv and Moscow have traded accusations over the dam’s destruction, without providing concrete proof that the other is culpable. The dam was occupied by Russia at the time of its collapse. It is not yet clear whether the dam was deliberately attacked or whether the breach was the result of structural failure.
Appeals for international help
Video published by the Ukrainian military shows drinking water being dropped to residents affected by the flooding in Russian-occupied areas of Kherson.