Approximately 42,000 people were at risk of inundation in Russian and Ukrainian-controlled areas along the Dnipro River following the collapse of a dam, and the United Nations aid chief warned of "grave and far-reaching consequences."
Ukraine and Russia each blame the other for the massive dam collapse on Tuesday, which caused tens of thousands of people to evacuate their homes.
Ukraine claimed that Russia committed a premeditated war crime by destroying the hydroelectric Nova Kakhovka dam during the Soviet era. According to the Kremlin, Ukraine was attempting to divert attention from the faltering commencement of a major counter-offensive.
Martin Griffiths, the head of U.N. aid, told the Security Council that the dam breach "will have grave and far-reaching consequences for thousands of people in southern Ukraine on both sides of the front line through the loss of homes, food, safe water, and livelihoods."
"In the coming days, the magnitude of the catastrophe will become fully apparent," he said.
Initially, no fatalities were reported, but U.S. spokesman John Kirby stated that "many deaths" were likely the result of the inundation.
The peak of the flooding is anticipated to occur on Wednesday, according to estimates from the Ukrainian government.
In Kherson city, approximately 60 kilometers (37 miles) downstream from the dam, water levels rose by 3.5 meters (11.5 feet) on Tuesday, forcing residents to wade through knee-deep water to evacuate while carrying plastic bags containing their belongings and carriers for small dogs.
"Everything is afloat in water, including all the furniture, the refrigerator, the food, and the flowers. Oskana, 53, stated, "I do not know what to do" when queried about her home.
In approximately 80 communities imperiled by flooding, buses, trains, and private vehicles were used to evacuate residents.
Tuesday in Kherson, the sound of incoming artillery sent those attempting to flee for cover. Reuters correspondents heard evening artillery fire near a residential neighborhood where civilians were evacuating.
Despite being ordered to evacuate, some residents of flooded Nova Kakhovka on the Russian-controlled bank of the Dnipro told Reuters they had decided to remain.
"They say they are ready to shoot without warning," said one man, Hlib, in reference to Russian troops.
According to a Facebook post from a zoo representative, the Kazkova Dibrova Zoo on the Russian-held riverbank was flooded, and all 300 animals perished.
"Every hour, more and more water is arriving. It is very filthy, said Yevheniya, a resident of Nova Kakhovka, via telephone.
Washington stated that it was unclear who was responsible, but Deputy U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Robert Wood told reporters that it would be illogical for Ukraine to destroy the dam and injure its citizens.
Because of the civilian risk, the Geneva Conventions prohibit targeting dams during the war.
In a video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy stated that his prosecutors had already contacted the International Criminal Court regarding the dam. Previously, he asserted on Telegram that Russian forces detonated the power plant from within.
"Residents are sitting on the roofs of their homes, waiting to be rescued... This is a Russian crime against people, nature, and life itself," Zelenskiy's senior staff member Oleksiy Kuleba said on Telegram.
The dam provides water to a vast area of southern Ukrainian farmland, including the Russian-occupied Crimean peninsula, and cooling the nuclear facility in Russian-held Zaporizhzhia.
The U.N. nuclear watchdog stated that Zaporizhzhia, located upstream of the reservoir, should have sufficient water to cool its reactors for "some months" from a distinct pond.
In the midst of Kyiv's preparations for a long-awaited counteroffensive, some military analysts believe the inundation could benefit Russia by stymieing or limiting any potential Ukrainian advance along that portion of the front line.