Residents of Ukrainian town occupied by Russia recount stories from a flooded Oleshky

Screenshot from YouTube TV Dozhd channel. Village of Novaya Kakhovka in the occupied by Russia territory of Ukraine

Independent Russian media outlet “Vazhnye Istorii” [Important Stories] has talked to the people who were waiting to be saved from the massive flood which occurred after the destruction of the Kakhovskaya hydroelectric power station. The people they interviewed lived on the left bank of the river Dnipro, which is Ukrainian territory currently occupied by Russia. Global Voices translated and republished the  shortened version of the article with permission from “Vazhnye Istorii”

Immediately following the dam destruction at the Kakhovskaya hydroelectric power station on the morning of June 6, a rescue mission was launched to save residents on the Ukrainian-controlled right bank of the Dnipro. However, on the occupied left bank under Russian control, the authorities chose not to rescue everyone. On Tuesday morning, Volodymyr Saldo, the head of the occupation administration of the Kherson region, stated that the station's destruction would have minimal impact on the region and a major evacuation was unnecessary. He later claimed that life in Novaya Kakhovka and downstream towns such as Oleshky, Golly Pristan, Kherson, and other settlements continued as usual. While he was recorded saying this, the building of the Palace of Culture in Novaya Kakhovka was being submerged.

With 22,000 to 40,000 people affected, the Ministry of Emergency Situations reported that only the  Kherson region's local department, comprising three groups, was operating in the disaster zone during the first two days. It was only on the second day after the flood that Vladimir Putin instructed the Ministry of Emergency Situations to commence a rescue mission from the left bank of the Dnipro.

The occupation authorities of the Kherson region stated that they were evacuating residents from Korsunka and Dnepryan villages. The villages of Oleshky and Golaya Pristan were heavily flooded, and evacuation from those areas required specialized equipment. However, in reality, local residents were not being rescued; they remained on rooftops, awaiting assistance from volunteers. “Important stories”  interviewed residents of the isolated, drowned, and left to its own fate town of Oleshky.

Nikolai, a resident of Oleshky

We are stuck in the attic with my grandmother, who is almost eighty years old. Evacuation seems impossible at the moment because she is in a delicate state after suffering a stroke. She can barely communicate and cannot be placed in a boat or even sit in a chair due to severe pain.

When we called for help to the right bank [in Ukraine], they suggested sending a car, but then informed us that vehicles were not permitted [by the Russian occupational authorities] in the occupied area. 

We are currently on the second floor. We have access to drinking water and some food.. Initially, the water started rising slowly, about three centimeters. We managed to carry my grandmother to a higher floor that is approximately three meters above ground level. 

The Russian rescuers failed to arrive. Where is the Ministry of Emergency Situations? There is nobody here to help at all. Those who are capable are doing their best to survive. The water level varies, reaching waist-deep in some areas and knee-deep in others. Some managed to escape using cars, others used boats. Some people remain indoors, while others climbed on rooftops.

Yaroslav Vasiliev, coordinator of a volunteer group dedicated to rescuing people in flooded towns

My father lives in Oleshky, and he is a stubborn man who is not easily convinced. The water levels rose rapidly, making it impossible to drive a car there by evening. I explored alternatives, considering the use of a boat. I monitored the situation through local authority groups [In Telegram].  Reaching the Ministry of Emergency Situations was impossible; I had to resort to writing them a message on Telegram. I sent the message, they read it, but there was no response.

By around six in the evening, I realized that time was running out to rescue my father. I gathered a group of volunteers, and many people responded within the first few hours. I've never done anything like this before.  Hydroelectric power plants don't get blown up that often.

Throughout the night, we tried to organize rescue operations. People didn't sleep; they rushed to various addresses, desperately searching for boats. We had to reach out to anyone who owned a boat. Finally, at five thirty in the morning, the first group of people was saved. At six in the morning, the team managed to rescue my father from the attic.

Initially, we had around 10 boats, which then increased to 15 or 16. Currently, we have approximately 30 to 35 boats, but even this is insufficient.

The situation is extremely critical, and there have been casualties. I can only speculate on the exact number, but it is already in the dozens. We are witnessing bodies floating in the water, people have been swept off the roofs by the strong currents.

We created an interactive map with addresses where people require rescue.  There are now over 700 addresses marked on the map.  In total, we have around 60 volunteers, mostly local residents. However, the number of available volunteers is insufficient, so we are continuously making announcements to recruit more. We are actively searching for new boats and also seek drivers to operate them. It becomes a continuous cycle of finding boats and recruiting people. 

Resources are scarce, and we face obstacles [from the authorities]. I had a group of volunteers from Crimea who were willing to help. They came equipped with life jackets and ropes. However, when we reached the checkpoint, they were denied entry without any reason. 

There are strict restrictions on movement in both directions. It has been reported that people without a Russian passport are being prevented from leaving, while those with a Russian passport can pass. Some of my friends managed to leave yesterday, but only after facing difficulties due to not having a Russian passport. At the checkpoint, they were detained for approximately an hour before eventually finding a way to proceed. It's unclear how they managed it, but it's possible that some form of payment was involved. And this is not an isolated incident. Hundreds of people are talking about it.

We are facing a shortage of people, strength, hands, boats, and even basic equipment like oars. We are resorting to rowing with shovels. My team only encountered the [rescue boat of] Ministry of Emergency Situations one time. They arrived in Oleshky today, coincidentally while our volunteers were present. The Ministry of Emergency Situations rescued two people and then abruptly left, never to return. There is still an entire street where people remain stranded on rooftops. No one else has reported sightings of the Ministry of Emergency Situations’ boat elsewhere.

The situation is critical, there are casualties. Women with children are clinging to rooftops while men try to hold on to poles for as long as they can. Their strength often fails them after three hours.Often people called, cried, begged, said that they had water up to their throats. 

Something urgently needs to be done. Our team has already rescued many people. Today alone, approximately 300 people were evacuated. There is nowhere to take those rescued the areas around Oleshky are surrounded by water. We are transporting people to the city center, to high-rise buildings where someone can offer refuge in their apartments.

Eugenyi, is trying to save his grandparents

There are two of my grandmothers and two grandfathers in the flooded village. They are in their seventies, and they have a Pekingese dog with them. They live on the left bank [in the city of Oleshky]. Yesterday the water hadn't reached our street yet, but today the water has begun to rise.

The last time they called me in the morning, they said that half of their two-storey house was already flooded. They are now waiting on the second floor.

I have been trying to find official evacuation assistance, because volunteers are not permitted in that area. Now only those who live there or are close can help with the rescue. I have reached out to everyone I could, contacting various groups [in social media] for help. 

I managed to find a person with a boat. But he said that he couldn't accommodate my grandparents anymore as his boat was already full. 

My time is running short. I am worried about their safety. I need to take action and continue looking for help.

Elena, waiting for rescue in the attic of her house

We are here in the attic, which overlooks the garden, but it seems like they can't see us. The noise from their motorboats drowns out our cries for help. Despite us shouting for help, they haven't come to rescue us. We've been waiting for half a day.

Well, if they don't come, so be it. We asked for help  and were promised an evacuation, but it is not coming.

Throughout the day, starting from six in the morning, the water has risen by 10 centimeters. It may seem insignificant compared to yesterday's levels, but we still have a buffer of 80 centimeters before the flooding becomes critical.

We have gathered enough water to last another day, but our food supplies will run out soon.

It's like a zoo here, with piglets walking on our neighbors’ roofs and dogs and ducks swimming around. We still try to stay optimistic and hold on to hope. We believe in victory and liberation [of Ukraine]. Faith is essential in these times. We hope that we won't be forgotten, that the Armed Forces [of Ukraine] will come to our rescue, and that life will return to normal, just as it was before the war.

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