UN accuses Russia of blocking access to flood-hit areas

The UN has accused Russia of refusing to allow aid deliveries to Moscow-controlled areas affected by flooding following the destruction of the Kakhovka dam almost two weeks ago.

“The government of the Russian Federation has so far declined our request to access the areas under its temporary military control,” Denise Brown, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Ukraine, said in a statement.

“The UN will continue to engage to seek the necessary access. We urge the Russian authorities to act in accordance with their obligations under international humanitarian law.

“Aid cannot be denied to people who need it.”

The statement comes as Ukrainian and Russian authorities said the death toll from the flooding had risen to 52. Russian officials said 35 people had died in Moscow-controlled areas and Ukraine‘s interior ministry said 17 had died and 31 were missing, Reuters reported. More than 11,000 have been evacuated on both sides.

Kherson residents wait for food and water supplies at a depot in Kherson following the destruction of the Kakhovka dam.
Kherson residents wait for food and water supplies at a depot in Kherson following the destruction of the Kakhovka dam. Photograph: Alex Chan/SOPA Images/Shutterstock

The collapse of the Moscow-controlled dam on 6 June unleashed floodwaters across southern Ukraine and Russia-occupied parts of the Kherson region, destroying homes and farmland, and cutting off supplies to residents.

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

Key events

US secretary of state Antony Blinken is set to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping later on Monday, Reuters reports. It will be the first time a US secretary of state has met the Chinese leader since 2018, and it could help to facilitate a summit between Xi and US President Joe Biden later in the year.

Suspilne, Ukraine’s state broadcaster, citing the regional authority, reports that Kherson and four other settlements remain submerged on the Ukraine-controlled right bank of the Dnipro, and almost 850 houses are still under water.

This is a video which purports to show Ukrainian forces in control of Piatykhatky, the eighth southeastern village that Kyiv says it has liberated in the last fortnight.

“Today, 18 June, the forces of 128 assault brigade chased out the Russians from the village of Piatykhatky. The Russians ran away leaving equipment and ammunition. Glory to Ukraine!” an unidentified soldier says in the video, Reuters reports.

The Guardian has not independently verified the location and time the video was made.

Vyacheslav Gladkov, governor of the Belgorod region in Russia, has reported that minor damage was sustained in the village of Balki after cross-border shelling from Ukraine. He reported no casualties.

Ukrainian officials and advisers have been sharing a video clip of the fire in Kherson after Russian shelling which has damaged buses and an emergency vehicle.

The aftermath of Russian shelling on Kherson: 10 buses burned down and a rescue services excavator damaged.

Terrorist state continues terrorizing civilians.

📹: Presidential office pic.twitter.com/MAaDiWoJyN

— Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) June 19, 2023

Russia’s FSB security service said on Monday it had thwarted a series of Ukrainian “sabotage and terrorist plots” targeting Russian-installed officials in Russian occupied territory in Ukraine and had arrested one woman as part of its investigation.

Reuters reports the FSB said in a statement that the attacks had targeted Russian law enforcement officials and Russian-installed government officials in the southern Zaporizhzhia region, one of four Ukrainian areas that Moscow has claimed to have annexed after staging what Ukraine termed “sham referenda” last year.

The FSB said it had opened criminal cases against an unnamed woman it described as “an accomplice” on charges related to terrorism and the illegal possession of explosives.

Reuters reports Russia’s defence ministry claimed on Monday its forces had thwarted a Ukrainian attempt to take the village of Novodonetske in the eastern Donetsk region. The claims have not been independently verified.

Suspilne correspondents have reported they have heard explosions in Kherson. This is not an infrequent occurrence, as Russian forces on the occupied left bank of the Dnipro continue to shell Ukrainian held positions on the right bank, and vice versa.

Here is a map outlining what we know of the Zaporizhzhia front. Deputy defence minister of Ukraine Hanna Maliar earlier confirmed that Ukraine had retaken the village of Piatykhatky on the western edge of it, the eighth settlement to return to Ukrainian hands in the past fortnight. Her statement confirmed claims about the village that were being reported yesteday by Russian military bloggers and Russian-installed officials in the region.

A map of the front.

She also said that the battle continues around Bakhmut, writing:

In the east, the enemy made a lot of efforts to stop the advance of our troops in the direction of Bakhmut. The overall intensity of fighting in this direction decreased last week, but the fighting continued.

Ukraine’s state emergency service has issued an image of firefighters battling a blaze in Kherson. Suspilne, Ukraine’s state broadcaster, reports that “As a result of Russian shelling in Kherson, a gas tank at one of the city’s gas stations and a company warehouse were on fire at night. Three units of equipment and 15 personnel of the state emergency service went to the scene of the fire.”

A handout photo shows firefighters tackling a blaze in Kherson.
A handout photo shows firefighters tackling a blaze in Kherson. Photograph: State emergency services of Ukraine/Telegram

The Russian military has “highly likely” started relocating troops from the eastern bank of the Dnipro River to Bakhmut and Zaporizhzhia, the UK’s Ministry of Defence has said in its latest intelligence update.

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“The DGF [Dnipro Group of Forces] redeployment likely reflects Russia’s perception that a major Ukrainian attack across the Dnipro is now less likely following the collapse of Kakhovka Dam and the resulting flooding,” the MoD writes.

All of the Patriot air and missile defence systems provided by the US to Ukraine in April are still working, contrary to claims by Russia, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said in his latest evening address.

“They are still here, they are working, all of them are shooting down Russian missiles. As efficiently as possible. Not a single Patriot has been destroyed!” Zelenskiy said.

The comment appeared to be a response to remarks made by Russian president Vladimir Putin at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum last week in which he suggested Moscow had destroyed five Patriot systems near Kyiv.

Zelenskiy also thanked “our defenders of the sky”, including Ukraine’s pilots, saying they had launched “more than a hundred group air strikes on enemy positions and rear” over the past week while almost three dozen missiles and about fifty attack drones had been destroyed.

A Patriot launcher system at the military base of Kaufbeuren, southern Germany.
A Patriot launcher system at the military base of Kaufbeuren, southern Germany. Photograph: Christof Stache/AFP/Getty Images

Eight settlements have been liberated over the past two weeks in Ukraine’s counteroffensive in the Berdyansk and Melitopol regions, including the village of Piatykhatky, deputy defence minister Hanna Maliar has said in a Telegram post.

A Russian blogger had reported the capture of the village on the western edge of the Zaporizhzhia front on Sunday after what he described as fierce fighting.

Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny is set to go on trial on Monday on charges of “extremism” that could keep him behind bars for decades, AFP is reporting.

The new case against the opposition leader comes as Moscow ramps up its crackdown, more than a year into its offensive in Ukraine, with most key opposition figures behind bars or in exile.

Navalny, who used to mobilise massive anti-Kremlin protests, is currently serving a nine-year prison sentence on embezzlement charges that his supporters see as punishment for his political work.

The 47-year-old was arrested in 2021 upon returning from Germany, where he recovered from a poison attack the previous year that he blamed on the Kremlin.

He has suffered from major weight loss in prison, and now faces up to another 30 years behind bars.

Navalny said that prosecutors provided him with 3,828 pages describing all the crimes he is alleged to have committed while in prison.

“Although it is clear from the size of the tomes that I am a sophisticated and persistent criminal, it is impossible to find out what exactly I am accused of,” Navalny quipped.

He has been charged with financing extremist activity, publicly inciting extremist activities and “rehabilitating the Nazi ideology”, among other crimes.

This will be the first formally political case against him, his team said.

The trial will take place at the maximum security IK-6 penal colony at Melekhovo, about 250 kilometres (155 miles) east of Moscow, where Navalny is jailed.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny standing in a glass cage at Babuskinsky District Court in Moscow in February 2021.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny standing in a glass cage at Babuskinsky District Court in Moscow in February 2021. Photograph: Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

Wagner leader and regular Kremlin critic Yevgeny Prigozhin says 32,000 former prisoners have returned home after the end of their contracts with Wagner in Ukraine, AP has reported.

Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin (R) visits a Wagner camp at an undisclosed location.
Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin (R) visits a Wagner camp at an undisclosed location. Photograph: AP

According to Prigozhin, 83 crimes have been committed by those who had returned home, which he claimed was “80 times less” than the number committed by those released from prison over the same period without having served with Wagner.

The early return of former prisoners to their communities has caused some controversy in Russia, as the Guardian’s Pjotr Sauer reported in April, with at least two already accused of murder since their release:

Ukrainian forces may be “temporarily pausing counteroffensive operations to reevaluate their tactics”, the Institute for the Study of War says in its latest assessment of the conflict.

It quoted the head of the Estonian Defense Forces Intelligence Center, Colonel Margo Grosberg, as saying on Friday that he believes “we won’t see an offensive over the next seven days.”

The thinktank noted: “Operational pauses are a common feature of major offensive undertakings, and this pause does not signify the end of Ukraine’s counteroffensive.”

It said Ukraine had “continued counteroffensive actions on at least four sectors of the front” on Sunday and “made limited territorial gains”.

Russia had the “means, motive and opportunity” to bring down the Kakhovka dam earlier this month, the Associated Press newswire has reported, citing access to exclusive photos and drone footage.

It writes:

In the days leading up to the single explosion, Ukrainian military drone videos showed dozens of Russian soldiers encamped on a bank of the Dnieper, relaxed as they walked back and forth to the dam with no cover – suggesting their confidence in their control of the area and especially the dam, which was strategically crucial.

The photos, taken from Ukrainian drone footage, obtained by the AP and dated May 28, showed a car parked on the dam, its roof neatly cut open to reveal enormous barrels, one with what appears to be a land mine attached to the lid and a cable running toward the Russian-held side of the river. It’s not clear how long the car remained.

A Ukrainian special forces communications official, who also noted the car appeared to be rigged, said he believed the purpose of that was twofold: to stop any Ukrainian advance on the dam and to amplify the planned explosion originating in the machine room and destroy the top of the dam. The car bomb itself would not have been enough to bring down the dam. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to preserve operational secrecy.

The explosion detected at 2:54 a.m. local time [on 6 June] registered on Norwegian seismic monitors at nearly magnitude 2. By comparison, a catastrophic explosion at Beirut’s port that killed scores of people and caused widespread destruction registered at a 3.3 on the seismic scale and involved at least 500 tons of explosives.

“That means it’s a significant explosion,” said Anne Strømmen Lycke, CEO of the Norwegian earthquake monitoring agency NORSAR.

Within a few minutes, water from the Kakhovka reservoir began cascading through the shattered dam, submerging the river’s sand bar islands and flooding much of southern Ukraine, including Russian-controlled territory.

A satellite image of the Nova Kakhovka dam after its collapse.
A satellite image of the Nova Kakhovka dam after its collapse. Photograph: Maxar Technologies/Reuters

UN accuses Russia of blocking access to flood-hit areas

The UN has accused Russia of refusing to allow aid deliveries to Moscow-controlled areas affected by flooding following the destruction of the Kakhovka dam almost two weeks ago.

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“The government of the Russian Federation has so far declined our request to access the areas under its temporary military control,” Denise Brown, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Ukraine, said in a statement.

“The UN will continue to engage to seek the necessary access. We urge the Russian authorities to act in accordance with their obligations under international humanitarian law.

“Aid cannot be denied to people who need it.”

The statement comes as Ukrainian and Russian authorities said the death toll from the flooding had risen to 52. Russian officials said 35 people had died in Moscow-controlled areas and Ukraine‘s interior ministry said 17 had died and 31 were missing, Reuters reported. More than 11,000 have been evacuated on both sides.

Kherson residents wait for food and water supplies at a depot in Kherson following the destruction of the Kakhovka dam.
Kherson residents wait for food and water supplies at a depot in Kherson following the destruction of the Kakhovka dam. Photograph: Alex Chan/SOPA Images/Shutterstock

The collapse of the Moscow-controlled dam on 6 June unleashed floodwaters across southern Ukraine and Russia-occupied parts of the Kherson region, destroying homes and farmland, and cutting off supplies to residents.

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

Opening summary

Hello and welcome to the Guardian’s live coverage of the war in Ukraine with me, Helen Livingstone.

The UN has accused Moscow of continuing to block humanitarian aid deliveries to Russian-occupied areas in eastern Ukraine that have been affected by the destruction of the Kakhovka dam earlier this month.

“We urge the Russian authorities to act in accordance with their obligations under international humanitarian law. Aid cannot be denied to people who need it,” the UN humanitarian coordinator for Ukraine, Denise Brown, said in a statement.

The death toll from flooding caused by the collapse of the dam has risen to 52, with authorities in Kyiv reporting 17 dead and 31 missing and Russian officials saying 35 people had died in Moscow-controlled areas.

A family from the village of Vasylivka, in the Mykolaiv region, confront the damage to their home caused by the flooding.
A family from the village of Vasylivka, in the Mykolaiv region, confront the damage to their home caused by the flooding. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

In other key developments:

  • Russia had the means, motive and opportunity to bring down the dam, according to exclusive drone photos and information obtained by the Associated Press newswire. Images taken from above the dam appeared to show an explosive-laden car atop the structure, and two officials said Russian troops were stationed in a crucial area inside the dam where the Ukrainians say the explosion that destroyed it was centred, AP reported. The Russian Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the news agency.

  • Ukraine has recaptured the village of Piatykhatky, in the southern Zaporizhzhia region, reports suggest. It would be the second gain in the area since Kyiv launched its counteroffensive earlier this month. A Russian-installed official said Ukrainian forces had taken the settlement and were entrenching themselves there while coming under fire from Russian artillery, Reuters reported. If confirmed, this is Ukraine’s first village gain for nearly a week, and marks an apparent escalation of the offensive on the most direct route to Crimea.

  • Russia’s defence ministry claimed in its daily update its forces had repelled a series of Ukrainian attacks across three sections of the 1000-km-long frontline and made no mention of Piatykhatky, Reuters reports. The battlefield reports could not be independently verified.

  • President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has praised Ukrainian forces for their “very effective” repelling of enemy assaults near Avdiivka, one of the focal points of fighting in the east, in his nightly video address. The head of the military administration in Avdiivka, a mining town shattered by months of fighting, told national television that Ukrainian forces had advanced about one km (two-thirds of a mile) around the town over the past two weeks.

  • The EU is speeding up arms deliveries to Ukraine to support the counteroffensive against Russian forces, the EU industry chief Thierry Breton told the French daily Le Parisien. He said the EU would be stepping up its efforts, pledging that 1m high-caliber weapons must be provided within the next year.

  • The UK Ministry of Defence said heavy fighting continues to be focused in Zaporizhzhia oblast, western Donetsk oblast and around Bakhmut. It says both sides are taking high casualties, with Russian losses likely to be the highest since the peak of the battle for Bakhmut in March. It also noted that Russian defence operations had been “relatively effective in the south”.

  • Ukrainian forces have destroyed an ammunition depot near the Russian-occupied port city of Henichesk, in the southern region of Kherson, a spokesperson for the Odesa military administration said on Sunday.

  • South African president Cyril Ramaphosa sought to present an African peace mission to Moscow and Kyiv in a positive light, tweeting “Africa Peace Initiative has been impactful and its ultimate success will be measured on the objective, which is stopping the war”. The Kremlin has said the plan will be “difficult to realise” while Zelenskiy said allowing negotiations now would just “freeze the war”. The African delegation is the first since the start of the war to hold separate face-to-face talks with both leaders on their peace initiative.




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