Ukrainians abandoned their inundated homes as floodwaters crested across a swathe of the south on Wednesday after the destruction of a vast dam on the front line between Russian and Ukrainian forces that each blamed on the other, APA reports citing Reuters.
Residents waded through flooded streets carrying children on their shoulders, dogs in their arms and belongings in plastic bags while rescuers used rubber boats to search areas where the waters reached above head height.
Ukraine said the flood would leave hundreds of thousands of people without access to drinking water, swamp tens of thousands of hectares of agricultural land and turn more into deserts.
"If the water rises for another metre, we will lose our house," said Oleksandr Reva, in a village on the bank, who was moving his family's belongings into the abandoned home of a neighbour on higher ground. A roof of a house could be seen being swept down the Dnipro River in a torrent.
The disaster at the Nova Kakhovka dam coincides with a looming long-awaited counteroffensive by Ukrainian forces, seen as the next major phase of the war. Each side accused the other of continuing to shell across the floodzone and warned of drifting landmines unearthed by the flooding.
Kyiv said on Wednesday its troops in the east had advanced by more than a kilometre around the ruined city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, its most explicit claim of progress since Russia reported the start of the Ukrainian offensive this week. Russia said it had fought off the attack.
The secretary of Ukraine's national security council, Oleksiy Danilov, said assaults under way were still localised, and the full-scale offensive had yet to begin: "When we start the counteroffensive, everyone will know about it, they will see it," he told Reuters.
Residents in the flood zone in the country's south blamed the bursting of the dam on Russian troops who controlled it from their positions on the opposite bank.
"They hate us," Reva said. "They want to destroy a Ukrainian nation and Ukraine itself. And they don't care by what means because nothing is sacred for them."
Russia imposed a state of emergency in the parts of Kherson province it controls, where many towns and villages lie in lowlands below the dam. Residents there have told Reuters by telephone that Russian troops patrolling the streets in waders were threatening civilians who approached.
Ukraine expects the floodwaters will stop rising by the end of Wednesday after reaching around five metres overnight, presidential deputy chief Oleksiy Kuleba said.
Two thousand people had been evacuated so far from the Ukrainian-controlled part of the flood zone, and the water level had reached its highest level in 17 settlements with a combined population of 16,000 people.
"Everything is submerged in water, all the furniture, the fridge, food, all flowers, everything is floating. I do not know what to do," said Oksana, 53, in the city of Kherson downriver from the destroyed dam.