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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said all levels of government and local authorities have been working nonstop to save as many people as they can from flooded areas following Ukraine's catastrophic dam collapse.
"The evacuation is ongoing. Wherever we can get people out of the flood zone, we do so. The State Emergency Service, police, and military are doing a great job. I want to thank each and every one of you who is involved," Zelensky said during his nightly address Thursday.
He also thanked international organizations "who are present on our free territory and provide specific assistance," though he expressed concern that none of those groups have accessed Russian-occupied areas of the disaster zone.
The effort so far: At least 2,339 people, including 120 children, have been evacuated from flooded areas following the collapse of the Nova Kakhovka dam in Ukraine, the country's Ministry of Internal Affairs said in a Telegram post Thursday.
The ministry said at least 563 people — including 28 children — were rescued from the flooding and that nine evacuation centers have been set up.
On the western bank of the Dnipro River, at least 3,426 houses are completely flooded, according to Oleksandr Prokudin, the head of the Kherson region military administration.
The looming US presidential election has raised the possibility of a new administration that is less enthusiastic in supporting Ukraine's defense against Russia.
Former President Donald Trump, the GOP frontrunner, has refused to say whether he believes Ukraine should win the war against Russia. His main challenger, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, has hedged on the conflict, describing Russia’s unprovoked invasion as a “territorial” dispute.
Asked by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins on Thursday about Trump’s comments, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak highlighted “strong support” in the US for funding Ukraine, adding that his meetings with congressional leaders in both parties this week indicated a willingness to support the country’s ongoing efforts to repel Russia's assault.
“I think there’s an acknowledgment, as I said, that the values that we’re fighting for are universal. They’re values that America has always stood up for, which is democracy, freedom and the rule of law,” Sunak said.
That's a sentiment US President Joe Biden, who is gearing up for an eventual general election contest against Trump, DeSantis or another GOP candidate, echoed in his comments at a joint news conference with Sunak Thursday.
"I ask people to picture what would happen if we were not supporting Ukraine. Do we think Russia would stop in Kyiv? Do you think that is all there would be happening? I think not, and I think the vast majority of my colleagues — even the critics — think that would not be the case, as well," he said, voicing confidence that the US will not run out of political will to aid Kyiv.
Read more from Sunak's interview with CNN here.
A top US national security official sharply criticized Moscow over Ukraine's claim that Russian forces are shelling Ukrainian-held parts of the Kherson region as rescue workers try to evacuate civilians from flood zones.
“It is incorrigible, these reports — now, I'm not in a position to confirm them — but if true, just absolutely incorrigible that, that rescuers, or people trying to be rescued, would come under fire from Russian forces, from whatever firing positions across the river that they're using,” White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
“This is a life and death situation here, and it's a situation caused by this devastating flood that we want to make sure we get humanitarian assistance in there,” he added.
Kirby pointed to humanitarian efforts from USAID to assist in the rescue and evacuation of civilians following the collapse of the Nova Kakhovka dam earlier this week, noting agencies were working with humanitarian partners on the ground to provide transportation, water purification equipment and rescue capabilities in the region.
“We have been at this really since just a couple of hours after the breach, and we're going to stay committed to that,” he said. “We’ve got good eyes on and good partners on the ground there, and so we're gonna keep doing that — there'll be more support coming from the United States as needed.”
Key context: Both Russia and Ukraine are accusing each other of shelling during the evacuations. Kyiv and Moscow also accuse each other of causing the breach in the first place, although it is unclear whether the dam was deliberately attacked, or whether the collapse was the result of structural failure.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said he spoke to his US counterpart Antony Blinken on Thursday about the Nova Kakhovka dam disaster.
The collapse in southern Ukraine is one of the biggest industrial and ecological disasters in Europe for decades.
“The U.S. is helping us mitigate the consequences of the Russia-caused Kakhovka disaster,” Kuleba tweeted.
Ukraine has blamed and condemned Russia for the dam’s collapse, and the subsequent shelling of the southern Ukrainian-held city of Kherson during mass evacuations due to the breach.
It’s still impossible to say whether the dam collapsed because it was deliberately targeted — or if the breach could have been caused by structural failure. Russia, for its part, has pointed the finger of blame at Ukraine.
Kuleba did not share further details about how the US was helping in the flood response.
The foreign minister said he and Blinken also discussed US military aid and hopeful outcomes for this summer’s NATO summit.
Russian defense systems have shot down targets over the Belgorod region, the governor there said.
Belgorod is near the border with Ukraine.
“Our air defense system was active over Belgorod, intercepting two air targets as they approached the city,” Vyacheslav Gladkov said in a Telegram post on Thursday. “Currently, we have no reports of casualties. Wreckage damaged the roof of a private house and cars. Response teams are on site doing door-to-door patrols.”
Some background: Russia has seen the effects of its war on Ukraine increasingly reverberate back onto its own territory in recent months.
Belgorod has seen a series of drone attacks. Last week, a “massive” shelling attack injured four people in the region. Eight apartment buildings, four homes, a school and two administrative buildings were damaged during the shelling in Shebekino, a village in the border region of Belgorod.
More recently, Ukrainian forces carried out heavy shelling of the region overnight Wednesday, Gladkov had said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday that the collapse of the Nova Kakhovka dam in the Kherson region was not a natural disaster or evidence of climate change.
Instead, he said:
"The disaster is Putin," referring to the Russian president. "Russian troops do not stop artillery strikes at the very territory where people are being evacuated. Unfortunately, there are wounded from these terrorist attacks. People who are rescuing and evacuating from the Russian ecocide are also forced to flee from Russian fire."
The collapse of the Nova Kakhovka dam in southern Ukraine is one of the biggest industrial and ecological disasters in Europe for decades. The catastrophe has destroyed entire villages, flooded farmland, deprived tens of thousands of people of power and clean water, and caused massive environmental damage.
In the Russian-occupied part of the territory, where about a dozen settlements are flooded, "no evacuation is carried out at all," Zelensky claimed in a video address to representatives of the world environmental protection community. People have been stuck on rooftops, "trapped in water" for days without drinking water, food, or medical care, he said.
"We do not know the number of dead and injured yet," he added. "In more than 30 settlements, life is ruined. For hundreds of thousands of people in many towns and villages, access to drinking water has been greatly impeded."
Some background: Both Russia and Ukraine are accusing each other of shelling during the evacuations. Also, Kyiv and Moscow have accused each other of causing the breach in the first place, although it is unclear whether the dam was deliberately attacked, or whether the collapse was the result of structural failure.
The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in southern Ukraine is still able to pump water from the nearby Kakhovka reservoir despite this week's dam collapse, the United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency said Thursday.
Water levels have dropped below the point where it was previously estimated pumps would not be able to operate, but the system has not been disrupted, explained Rafael Grossi, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. That's bought the plant more time before it has to switch to alternative cooling sources.
“Nevertheless, the general nuclear safety and security situation remains very precarious and potentially dangerous,” he continued.
Since the dam collapse, the reservoir’s water level has dropped by just over 4 meters (around 13 feet), and it's losing between 4 and 7 centimeters each hour, Grossi said. A power plant review has found that it will likely be able to keep pumping water from the reservoir even if it drops by another meter or two — and possibly lower.
Once it can no longer use the reservoir to cool its six reactors, Grossi said alternative water supplies — which include a large cooling pond next to the plant, several smaller ponds and onsite wells — can provide required cooling water for several months.
Grossi said IAEA teams on the ground have requested access to areas surrounding the plant and reservoir so they can learn more.
About the plant: The Zaporizhzhia plant, with its six reactors, is the largest nuclear power station in Europe. Ukraine relies heavily on nuclear power, with about half of its electricity coming from reactors at four plants around the country.
The plant is held by Russian forces but operated mostly by a Ukrainian workforce. Fighting around the plant and the perilous workplace environment for its staff have made Zaporizhzhia NPP a subject of constant concern for the IAEA and other international observers.
Rescuers are facing resource challenges while carrying out evacuations in Ukraine-controlled Kherson due to the scale of the flooding caused by the collapse of Nova Kakhovka dam earlier this week, an emergency services officer told CNN.
There is a shortage of resources as Russians continue shelling the western bank of the Dnipro river, said Maksym Trykur, an officer at Ukraine’s State Special Transport Service.
The catastrophe is “unprecedented and the challenge is it's impossible to accumulate all the resources in such a short time,” Trykur told CNN.
Here other key developments related to the dam collapse and Russia's war in Ukraine:
- Landmines displaced by Ukraine dam collapse "a big problem," NGO says: The collapse of the dam has displaced landmines in the region, the head of the Red Cross Weapons Contamination Program told CNN on Thursday. Landmines “in the water, on the surface, [and] buried under the ground” in the area flooded by water have “shifted location,” Erik Tollefsen told CNN. The marking and mapping systems used by charities and NGOs to detect and locate landmines are no longer accurate, as so many landmines have moved in the water. “This is a big problem,” Tollefsen added.
- UN agencies providing clean water and food to people affected by dam collapse: Several United Nations agencies are working to provide access to clean water and food for Kherson residents affected by the dam collapse, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA).
- Meanwhile, several people were injured after a missile attack hit Ukraine’s central Cherkasy region: The city of Uman was hit by a missile attack on Thursday, according to Ihor Taburets, head of the Cherkasy region’s military administration. “We have two hits: on an industrial facility and a car wash. In the second case, a fire broke out as a result of the hit,” he said. Eight people were injured, two seriously, Taburets said, citing preliminary information.
- Ukraine sees resistance and losses in an attempt to breach Russian lines, US says: Ukrainian forces have suffered losses in heavy equipment and soldiers as they met greater-than-expected resistance from Russian forces in their first attempt to breach Russian lines in the east of the country in recent days, two senior US officials tell CNN. One US official described the losses — which include US-supplied MRAP armored personnel vehicles — as "significant."
- Ukrainian commander says defensive progress being made in Bakhmut area: Troops are making progress and continue to advance in the Bakhmut area in eastern Ukraine, the Ukrainian military said Thursday. “The defensive operation continues, the enemy is trying to stop our forces but is getting beaten,“ the commander of Ukrainian Land Forces Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi said in a Telegram post. He shared a video, purportedly showing soldiers of the 77th Air Assault Brigade destroying a Russian tank.
- US and UK reaffirm their support for Ukraine: US President Joe Biden and his British counterpart, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, touted their "unwavering support" for Ukraine and shared condemnation of Moscow's "brutal aggression" as they met in Washington, DC, Thursday. Biden said he believes the US will have the funding necessary to support Ukraine against Russia for as long as it takes. The US president, responding to a reporter's question, said he's confident in the continued funding despite what you hear from "some voices today on Capitol Hill," referring to lawmakers who have expressed skepticism about the country's extent and duration of aid to Kyiv.