Dhe first artillery shell hits the water. This gives people time to get to safety. Residents, rescue workers and journalists run for their lives, throw themselves to the ground in the street and press against the walls of buildings as the next missiles hit around Korabelnaya Square in Kherson.
The police and military call out that a house nearby offers protection and guide the fugitives there. There they wait for the next forty minutes in a dark corridor until the shelling subsides.
In the early Thursday afternoon, numerous explosions shook Cherson in southern Ukraine. Artillery shells smashed into the center of the region hardest hit by the flood disaster during the evacuation work. Just two days earlier, the Kakhovka Dam ruptured, and the Dnieper’s tidal waves inundated 600 square kilometers of the Kherson Oblast.
The war doesn’t stop
In the morning, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi got an idea of the situation in Cherson, standing on Korabelnaya Square, where the shells fell hours later. He had discussed “many important issues,” he said on Telegram. It was about the military and humanitarian situation, as well as the restoration of the region’s ecosystem. Shortly after the post appears online, the intervals between the muffled noises that are always heard in the city anyway become shorter.
War does not pause in the midst of a disaster. According to Kiev sources, 35 towns were under water on Thursday morning, 26 of them in Ukrainian-controlled territory and ten in Russian-occupied territory. An estimated 42,000 people are affected on both sides of the river. And the level is expected to rise. The Russian state news agency RIA reported the first victims of the flood on Thursday morning. According to the authorities, five people died in the town of Nowa Kachowka, near the dam. The state agency TASS also wrote that 4,300 people had been brought to safety so far.
The Ukrainians, on the other hand, criticize the fact that the occupying forces did not take care of the local people. “If there is no international organization in the disaster area, it means that there is no help at all, that something is working,” Zelenskyy said in his video address on Wednesday evening. He accused the Russians of shooting at rescue workers trying to get people out of the flooded areas.
For its part, Ukraine on Thursday afternoon reported the first fatality of the floods in the Mykolayiv region in the area it controls, where floods also hit. In Kherson, meanwhile, every effort is being made to make the evacuation operations look as professional as possible. Disaster relief services, the military and volunteers have come from other cities to help. Dozens of the red-and-yellow watercraft, with huge black rubber wheels, were brought to Kherson to take people from staging points through the flooded parts of the city to safety. The vehicle, called “Bohun”, was developed by a Ukrainian start-up that produces in Kiev. Ukrainians are proud that they have their own technique in this emergency situation.
On Wednesday, the “Bohuns” of the disaster service are in constant use. They swim through the tides, pushing a small wave in front of them as they pull out of the water onto shore. The vehicles can transport a good half dozen people at a time. When they are in the dry part of the city, police officers check the identity of those who have arrived. “To prevent Russian spies from interfering,” explains one.