KYIV — Thousands are fleeing parts of southern Ukraine after a major dam burst, triggering huge floods and sparking a humanitarian disaster.
Water continues to surge down the Dnipro River which divides Russian and Ukrainian-controlled territory.
Officials say 29 towns and villages along the river have been flooded and nearly 2,000 homes have been submerged in the main city of Kherson.
Both Ukraine and Russia blame each other for sabotaging the Kakhovka dam. The BBC has been unable to verify claims from either side.
Early on Tuesday morning, the dam in Russian-controlled Nova Kakhovka was breached, leading to mass evacuations as water levels downstream increased rapidly.
One woman, who arrived in Kherson on a rescue boat from the Russian-occupied east side of the river, explained how quickly the situation escalated after she heard about the disaster early on Tuesday.
“We managed to collect our things but the water kept rising. At that moment, I was cooking buckwheat and my feet were already underwater. It started to flood really fast,” Kateryna Krupych, 40, told the BBC.
“It feels like we’ve lived a whole life in just one day.”
Rising water levels are expected to peak in Kherson late on Wednesday, but officials fear a catastrophic impact on agriculture as the vast Kakhovka reservoir empties into the Black Sea.
Kherson’s regional governor Oleksandr Prokudin said 1,700 have so far been evacuated while Kremlin-installed officials on the other side of the river say 1,200 people have been taken to safety.
Officials say more than 40,000 people — 17,000 in Ukraine-held territory west of the Dnipro and 25,000 in the Russian-occupied east — need to leave.
UNICEF’s Damian Rance said the charity has seen homes completely destroyed as concerns continue to linger around trapped residents.
“Safe water has been impacted in many of these locations as the water supply obviously came from the reservoir there, as has the electricity supplies that have been cut off.”
President Volodymyr Zelensky said earlier on Wednesday that hundreds of thousands of people across the Kherson region are without adequate drinking water.
Both sides blame each other for the destruction of the dam. Ukraine says it was mined by Russian forces, and accuses Russia of doing little to help people in flooded areas of the Russian-occupied east bank of the river.
Russia says the damage was caused by Ukrainian shelling, and President Vladimir Putin called it “a barbaric act” in a phone call with Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
This is just the latest difficulty to hit the city of Kherson. It was occupied by Russian forces soon after the war began last year, but liberated by Ukraine in November. Since then the city has been bombarded with shelling.
Viktoriia Yeremenko, 57, told the BBC her house was destroyed in February and she moved to her son’s apartment which has now been flooded.
“We managed to get out,” she said. “There was panic, we had to leave quickly and grab the dogs. My brother is half paralyzed too.
In recent years the Kakhovka dam has become a symbol of leverage between Kyiv and Moscow.
When Russia first annexed Crimea in 2014, Ukrainian authorities closed it down and cut off the peninsula from a major water supply.
Then last year, invading Russian forces were accused by Ukraine of planting the dam with explosives, which the Kremlin denied. BBC