Desperate evacuees are under attack inside Ukraine's flood zone 8 June 2023 01:06 PM: There are several possible war crimes playing out in real-time in southern Ukraine and the world is watching as the tragedy unfolds, following the destruction of a major dam.

We were at one of the flood evacuation points in Kherson when it came under attack - targeting those just rescued; the rescuers; the relief teams and the journalists covering the emergency.

There was immediate panic as everyone rushed to take cover - scattering against walls, running downstairs to basements and cowering in doorways.

"Everyone move!", a volunteer shouted to his team. "Prepare to pack up."

Dogs rescued from flooding near Kherson
Image: Dogs rescued from flooding

As they scrambled to carry cages filled with bedraggled, sodden animals to safety, and break down and pack up their temporary food and water shelters, the attacks kept coming in - an artillery barrage and rockets levelled at aid workers, as well as the scared and the desperate who they were caring for.

We saw two volunteers trying to carry one of their few dinghies being used in the rescue efforts - before dropping it and running as another rocket screamed overhead.

Hours earlier, the Ukrainian leader visited one of the evacuation points in Kherson to support the relief effort.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has already urged global leaders to do more to rally around and help, castigating the international organisations for what he deems as their sluggish response.

Panic at flood evacuation point - live updates


'I'm not afraid of anything anymore'

The same evacuation point came under repeated attack after he left.

We were given footage filmed by one soldier as they took an injured civilian to safety on a stretcher.

Frail old women were shepherded to shelter along walls as the ominous sounds of an artillery barrage rumbled on.

But 74-year-old Larissa brushed it all off.

"They bombed my apartment before new year," she told us. "We've been through it all. I'm not afraid of anything anymore."

The first flooding deaths are now being reported.

Tragically, they will not be the last.

Ukrainian media said three people had died in the Kherson region as a result of flooding.

Aftermath of flooding near Kherson

But the Ukrainian president has pointed out it is "impossible to predict how many people will die" in the Russian-controlled areas of Kherson.

Reports from those who have managed to flee from there to the Ukrainian side told us the Russian troops appeared as shocked as they were at the dam explosion and subsequent floods.

They said the Russian troops told them they expected to be evacuated.

But when that didn't happen, the residents saw some of the Russian troops swimming to get away.

Tearful reunions interrupted by attacks

A family of six, including two children and a kitten, wept with relief at being reunited with their relatives on the Ukrainian-held side of Kherson.

They told of sheltering in the loft of their home in the Russian-occupied village of Kardashynka until their whole house started crumbling as the waters kept rising.

"You're home. You're home," their waiting relative said repeatedly as she hugged them over and over.

The family thought they had fled to safety in Ukrainian territory - surviving shelling, the flood zone and currents to make it to the other side.

But a short time later, all those newly rescued, as well as those trying to help them, came under multiple and random attacks.

Aftermath of flooding near Kherson

This is a war zone.

The waters have washed over entire areas of the battlefield.

The Ukrainian rescue operation is going on in the midst of artillery fire and shelling - and the threat of mines.

We've spent the last few days since the Nova Kakhova dam burst - and sent a torrent of water cascading either side of the Dnipro river - witnessing the devastation and desperation it has already wrought on humans, animals and the landscape.

The Ukrainian president says there may be about 100 communities, villages and towns, including Kherson city, affected.

Aerial pictures taken from several drones show huge swathes of what were once residential areas now underwater - covered in sewage and debris, mixed with chemicals and toxins and there are reports of oil too.

President Zelenskyy first described it as "ecocide" - then an environmental bomb of mass destruction.

He may well be underestimating the massive effect this is going to have on the land, countryside and people.

A horrifyingly slow misery

It's actually difficult to overstate just how much of a tragedy this is - and the full scale of what's happened will probably not be felt or even properly assessed for some time.

Immediately though, right in front of us, on an hourly basis, we are seeing the human and animal suffering and cost.

But it's a slow, drawn-out misery.

Depressingly, horrifyingly slow.

The steady filling-up of streets is even taking the residents by surprise.

The waters keep rising - for the first 12 or so hours by 10-12cm per hour.

Read more: 'Russians were looting our houses'

By yesterday, that had slowed to 1-2cm an hour.

The waters are expected to stay high for another four to five days, though.

And the average flood level of the water is about 5.6 metres (about 18ft), according to the governor of Kherson Oblast.

That's enough to cover the tops of street signs and reach the tip of roofs.

The residents have been living in areas where the rumble of artillery and mortar firing, of explosions and shells dropping, has been a constant, frightening, deadly backdrop.

And those who have stuck it out, those who have resolutely refused to be pushed out by the fighting and war - and then refused to budge because of the flooding - are now coming under fire as they finally give up their homes to the rising waters.

We saw videos filmed by the rescuers themselves showing the waters around them punctured by artillery strikes throwing huge showers of water into the air as they tried to keep their balance on tiny dinghies, clutching to still-visible rooftops peeking out from the waters.

It's difficult to imagine it getting much more frightening or miserable for these people.

Alex Crawford is reporting from Kherson, with cameraman Jake Britton and producers Chris Cunningham and Artem Lysak

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