War against Ukraine: Landmines float in floodwaters as Ukraine and Russia trade accusations over Kherson
Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of shelling the city of Kherson, where residents are trying to evacuate following devastating flooding in the region after a dam burst and a hydroelectric plant was reportedly targeted on Tuesday.
Russia has claimed two people have been killed by Ukrainian shelling as people were being evacuated. Ukraine says Russian attacks have wounded three in the formerly-occupied city, which was visited by Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday morning.
This comes after Russian officials in the occupied city of Nova Kakhovka said five people had died in the flooding that engulfed the city, just a few miles from the dam. And an exiled Ukrainian mayor in the town of Oleshky, in Kherson Oblast, said three people had been killed there as a result of the disaster.
Meanwhile, aid agency the Red Cross has warned that landmines were dislodged when the dam was breached.
Mr Zelensky arrived in Kherson, which was occupied by Russia from March to November last year before being liberated by Ukrainian troops, to evaluate the response to damage caused by the Kakhovka dam breach.
The Kremlin, which controls the area around the dam itself, has said president Vladimir Putin has no plans to visit. Instead, he is expected to meet with Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, with whom he has held several face-to-face meetings in recent weeks, despite concerns over Mr Lukashenko's health.
The Ukrainian leader said he was helping to assess efforts to evacuate civilians, provide them with drinking water and other support, and try to stanch vast environmental damage.
Mr Zelensky also raised the prospect of funding allocations to help compensate residents and businesses driven from their homes and offices by rising waters.
The Red Cross said mines had floated away due to the widespread flooding, which has seen thousands of people evacuated from their homes.
"We knew where the hazards were," said Erik Tollefsen, head of the Weapon Contamination Unit at the International Committee of the Red Cross. "Now we don't know. All we know is that they are somewhere downstream."
Authorities had spent recent months mapping and marking where mines were located, but have now “shifted location”. Both Ukraine and Russia have accused the other of carrying out an attack on the dam, which burst on Tuesday morning.
A third theory – of increased levels of water behind the dam bursting through infrastructure that was already damaged due to shelling in the region in recent months – has emerged. US satellite imagery has shown increased levels of water in recent months. It is possible Russia, which controlled the dam after occupying the region, could have deliberately increased the water levels. However, the Kremlin claimed earlier this week Ukraine had been doing so.
“I think that structural failure resulting from the impact of earlier damage associated with the war remains a possibility,” Mark Mulligan, professor of physical geography at University College London, said.
He added: “The very high level of water in the reservoir coupled with previous damage, leading to uncontrolled flows of water through the dam, could lead to catastrophic structural failure.”
Speaking in Washington, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the UK was "still establishing definitively the cause of the attack on the dam".
Further disagreement between Ukraine and Russia came on Thursday over a zoo in the flooded city of Nova Kakhovka. Zoo workers have reported all 300 animals living at the zoo died in the floods. However, Russia – which controls the city after occupying it since the invasion of Ukraine – has insisted Nova Kakhovka never had a zoo. It is believed two workers from the zoo had stayed behind to look after the animals following Russian occupation.
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