December 2, 2023

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Russia refuses UN help as the death toll from breached dams rises

Russia refuses UN help as the death toll from breached dams rises

June 18 (Reuters) – Moscow has rejected offers from the United Nations to help residents affected by floods at the Kakhovka Dam, where the death toll has risen and dirty waters have forced the closure of beaches in southern Ukraine, the international body said on Sunday.

The collapse of a Moscow-controlled dam on June 6 sent floodwaters pouring through southern Ukraine and Russian-occupied parts of the Kherson region, destroying homes and farmland and cutting off supplies to residents.

The death toll rose to 52, with Russian officials saying 35 people had died in Moscow-controlled areas and Ukraine’s Interior Ministry saying 17 were killed and 31 missing. More than 11,000 have been evacuated from both sides.

The United Nations urged Russia to act in accordance with its obligations under international humanitarian law.

“Help cannot be refused to those who need it,” Denise Brown, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Ukraine, said in a statement.

Ukraine accuses Russia of blowing up the Soviet-era dam, which has been under Russia’s control since the early days of its invasion in 2022.

A team of international legal experts assisting Ukrainian prosecutors in their investigation said it was “highly likely” that the dam’s collapse was caused by explosives planted by the Russians.

The Kremlin accused Kiev of sabotaging the hydroelectric dam, which includes a reservoir the size of the Great American Salt Lake.

Authorities in Odessa closed off the popular Black Sea beaches there, banning swimming and consuming fish and seafood from unknown sources.

“The beaches of Odessa have been declared unsuitable for swimming due to the significant deterioration of the waters… and a real health hazard,” the Odessa administration said in the messaging app Telegram.

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Ukrainian officials said water tests last week showed dangerous levels of salmonella and other “infectious agents”. Cholera has also been spotted.

Although the floodwaters have receded, the Dnipro River on which the Kakhovka Dam was built has carried tons of debris into the Black Sea and the coast of Odessa, causing what Ukraine calls “ecocide”.

The levels of toxic substances in marine organisms and on the sea floor are expected to worsen, increasing the risk of landmines washing up on the beach.

“We can forget about the holiday season for a year,” the head of the Center for the Marine Environment, Viktor Komorin, was quoted as saying by Ukrainian broadcaster Suspilne last week.

Additional reporting by Lydia Kelly, Michelle Nichols and Ron Popeskey; Writing by Lydia Kelly and Ron Popeski; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Chris Reese and Jerry Doyle

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