‘Now only the treetops are visible.’ Residents of Kherson describe the devastation caused by the Kakhovka dam disaster
In Ukraine’s Kherson region, thousands of homes were flooded after the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant’s dam was destroyed on June 6. Journalists from Ukrainska Pravda travelled to the center of the region to speak with local residents to learn more about the scale of the devastation.
On June 7, the Dnipro river, where the dam was located, reached its highest levels on record — the water had risen over five meters (around 16 feet). That same day, Ihor Syrota, the CEO of Ukrhydroenergo, Ukraine’s largest hydropower company, reported that water levels had reached their peak.
In Kherson, the districts of Korabel and Dniprovskyi were the hardest hit, where floodwaters have even reached the third floor of some residential buildings. On the Ukrainian-controlled right bank of the Dnipro river, the flooding is so severe that it’s only possible to access some low-lying areas such as Korabel by boat.
By the morning of June 8, two thousand people had been evacuated from Kherson, according to Oleksandr Prokudin, head of the Kherson region’s military administration. Around 1,500 people were evacuated from the Korabel district alone.
In order to get around the city, the State Emergency Service’s employees use all-terrain vehicles, police officers and river service employees use motorboats, and volunteers get around on dinghies. While they all offer to evacuate local residents, not everyone agrees to leave — some prefer to remain on the upper floors of their homes for the time being.
One local resident who didn’t immediately agree to be evacuated is Maryna Havrylova, a senior citizen. She told Ukrainska Pravda that the floodwaters started to approach her home, located not far from the Dnipro river, on the evening of June 6. By the next morning, the water was already flowing into her entrance. “That’s when I realized I could become an eternal prisoner,” she said.
At first, Havrylova refused to be evacuated. From her third floor balcony, she shouted down to rescue workers that she was worried about leaving her 10 cats behind. She only agreed to be evacuated once rescuers promised they’d bring animal carriers for her cats.
“The main thing is for my pets to be safe. I just recently rescued two kittens. They might get lost here,” said Havrylova. Ukrainska Pravda reports that many local residents were evacuated with their pets and that several hundred animals had passed through one evacuation center.
Oleh and Serhii, two residents of Kherson, have been actively assisting the evacuation effort. Before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, they both transported people along the Dnipro river. Now, they use their boats to reach islands in the “gray zone,” an area between the two sides’ positions, which until recently was under Russian control.
Oleh tells Ukrainska Pravda that the Russian military didn’t provide assistance to civilians affected by the Kakhovka dam disaster. “Yesterday, Russians were only evacuating their own people. They had command and observation posts on the islands, but abandoned ordinary people stuck in their dachas,” he said.
On June 7, Oleh and Serhii helped evacuate 16 people from the flooded Potemkin Island. “There’s water everywhere. It’s a desert made of water — only treetops and roofs are visible. Now, where you’d used to find a yard, your boat propellers are touching [the yard’s] grapevines instead,” explains Oleh.