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Ukraine’s unnatural disaster: What the Kakhovka dam collapse means for the region

CARE's rapid response team traveled to Kherson to quickly analyze the situation and provide relief. All photos: CARE

CARE's rapid response team traveled to Kherson to quickly analyze the situation and provide relief. All photos: CARE

In what officials are already calling one of the largest man-made European disasters in decades, a critical dam on the frontline of the Ukraine conflict suffered severe damage early Tuesday morning, forcing thousands to evacuate, endangering critical water supplies, and threatening ecosystems throughout the region.

Along with the Kakhovka dam itself, the turbines and generators of the region’s crucial power were also destroyed, and the floodwaters are expected to continue rising.

As soon as the news of the catastrophe broke, CARE began coordinating its response to bring relief to those in the flood zone, but the changing circumstances and ongoing conflict have made assistance difficult.

“You’re having to move quickly while at the same time constantly assessing the security situation,” Alex Hope, CARE’s country safety manager told USA Today. “We’re still monitoring the situation because the flooding could increase.”

The flooded area has been a site of intense fighting, which has raised concerns from aid groups over unexploded ordnance.

“The area where the Kakhovka dam was is full of landmines, which are now floating in the water,” Fabrice Martin, Country Director at CARE Ukraine, told CNN.

According to current information from the Kherson regional administration, over two thousand houses have been flooded, and 1,894 people have been evacuated.

Still, many residents remain stranded.

Selena Kozakijevic, another member of CARE’s Ukraine team, told the Washington Post that many of those left behind are elderly people and people with disabilities, adding to the complications.

Work continues in the aftermath of the Kakhovka dam catastrophe. Photo: CARE

Government estimates suggest 80 settlements are located in the flood zone, with residents on the left bank of the Dnipro River in the Kherson region most vulnerable to the rising waters, and on the right bank, at least 16,000 people still in the “critical zone.”

“Unfortunately, the left bank of the river is not accessible from the right side,” Kozakijevic told CNN, “and this is primary reason why from the Ukrainian-controlled areas, the assistance at the moment is not passing to the other side.”

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has called the dam’s breach a “monumental humanitarian, economic and ecological catastrophe,” lamenting that this is “yet another example of the horrible price of war on people.”

The ongoing emergency not only threatens the region’s food and water supply, but the delicate ecosystems of Crimea and the Black Sea.

“At least 150 tons of oil have been released into the Dnipro River with the risk of further leakage of more than 300 tons,” Martin said. “This may cause the Nyzhniodniprovskyi National Nature Park to disappear, which is more than 80,000 hectares of protected land.”

CARE is working with its local partners to coordinate assistance in repairing shelters and drinking-water supplies. Photo: CARE

CARE partners from the charity organization Vostok-SOS have launched evacuation operations in the region, and a CARE rapid response team is currently in Kherson conducting assessments in coordination with local authorities and partners to help the affected communities.

“Together with partners, CARE will ensure that the immediate needs of affected communities are met, delivering essential non-food items, water, and equipment — including generators and water filtration and purification systems — to those who are staying in the Kherson region, as well as to thousands of people who might be displaced as a consequence of the floods,” said Kozakijevic.

“The Nova Kakhovka dam disaster is simply devastating,” CARE CEO Michelle Nunn said. “The Ukrainian people have already endured over a year of relentless fighting, and this tragic event has only further exacerbated their pain and suffering.

“CARE stands in solidarity with the people of Ukraine and remains committed to providing lifesaving relief and support.”

“We will continue working together to bring hope and comfort to all those facing the unimaginable.”

Please visit care.org/ukraine for more information on how you can help.

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