”We are facing a humanitarian crisis, water shortages and infectious diseases.” Yaroslav Korniienko, volunteering coordinator of evacuations in the Kherson region — an interview

Yevhen Spirin
”We are facing a humanitarian crisis, water shortages and infectious diseases.” Yaroslav Korniienko, volunteering coordinator of evacuations in the Kherson region — an interview

Stas Kozlyuk / «Babel'»

In the first hours of June 6 Russian occupiers blew up the dam of the Kakhovka power plant. This unleashed massive flooding and the largest ecological catastrophe on the continent after 1986 Chornobyl NPP explosion. Babel conducts a series of express interviews about the situation in regions affected by the flood. Yaroslav Korniienko is a coordinator of the evacuation mission of the "Vostok SOS" foundation. He tells about the first days after the flooding in the Kherson region, how people were saved in boats and cars, as well as why one should not mindlessly go to Kherson to help, but rather be in touch with those who are already there.

Tell us what you do, what the "Vostok SOS" fund does, and what happened in the Kherson region over the last day.

I coordinate evacuation in the "Vostok SOS" organization. We specialize in the evacuation of people with reduced mobility, but also everyone who needs it. When the Kherson tragedy happened, we went in five crews to the south to rescue those who were in danger, to help not only with evacuation, but with humanitarian work, with a bunch of other things.

What did you see, what are the needs of people, what do you help with?

The realities of the last day differed from the forecasts: we thought that the water would recede at 8-9 a.m., but it turned out that it did not recede. The water level in Kherson continued to rise during the day, and emergency services and volunteers continue to work. The situation was aggravated by the fact that Kherson is being shelled. Many people, sitting on their balconies, looking at the water under their own balconies, do not want to leave their homes, they want to wait, because they think that the water will recede now. But everyone — emergency services, volunteers, psychologists — encourages people to leave their homes, at least for a week.

Around Kherson there are many villages to the east and west, and currently the humanitarian situation in them is such that evacuation is not necessary, because the water level has risen high in few places. But everyone needs drinking water, and in a few days pumps will be needed to pump out the water. Many roads are washed out, many places cannot be reached at the moment except by car, and then by boat.

The situation is very different on the [occupied] left bank and on the right bank, because volunteers work only on the right. Do you know whatʼs happening on the left?

People from [flooded] Oleshky town are desperate, asking for help, because the water is already reaching the roof [of most one-story buildings], and they are sitting on the roof. And they canʼt get out. We have currently found a working scheme there: locals created a Telegram channel, there are volunteers who save people. We are forwarding what we know of people who need help to this Telegram channel. But generally, the situation on the left bank is really terrible.

I also saw that the Russian occupiers simply did not let some people who tried to leave the left bank. They told them to sit on the roof.

As for not letting people off the roofs, I havenʼt heard of that. But I heard that at the checkpoints in the region they [the Russians] really do not let people out, where it is still possible to pass.

Is the situation with pets also critical? What are the immediate needs, besides water and, for example, food?

In fact, many organizations are working there, many needs have already been closed. There are currently coordinated actions between the authorities and public organizations, each community has written out real urgent needs.

How many people were injured from what you saw?

I think that so far it is tens of thousands, because it really flooded housing, flooded an entire district in Kherson, but I think that itʼs early to summarize anything. We still have a humanitarian crisis, a lack of water. And I suspect that under summer sun, the water in which everything that was in the city rose will be infected. And we are still waiting for dysentery and all kinds of infectious diseases, [diseases of] everyone who will be careless about contact with water is still ahead.

Did you communicate with the military, how many mines were washed away and ended up in the water?

Mines are floating, and currently the military does not let emergency service workers go everywhere to provide assistance, because the mine danger is urgent. This is a really critical issue, plus the shelling is intensifying.

Do you have a demographic breakdown of the people you evacuated?

There are elderly people. Yesterday, people with reduced mobility were taken to a hospital in the north of the Kherson region. Currently, everyone is being evacuated from local, Mykolaiv, and Kherson hospitals. Those with reduced mobility, who were rescued by the State Emergency Service and volunteers, are now being taken to Vinnytsia. There they are ready to receive them temporarily. In fact, not many people were evacuated. True, as of yesterday, it was about one and a half thousand from Kherson, and we understand that this is quite a few. Today, the picture is a little different, there are already more — about two and a half thousand. Many people do not want to leave their apartments. There is still a certain danger in that there may be, for example, some bedridden grandmother, she cannot apply for evacuation on her own behalf, and we do not know about her.

For tomorrow, we have many applications on the perimeter, in Kherson, in the villages regarding people with limited mobility, to whom we still have access, and we will already take them from there in cars.

How does the evacuation happens? That is, you say [people leave] on cars, but I have seen all day long videos with boats, where people are swimming.

Yes, everything is correct. Today we are taking our own boat and will use it in cooperation with the State Emergency Service. But at the moment, those places in Kherson that are flooded, where we cannot get to, we hand everything over to the State Emergency Service. And they fulfill these applications. We called those people whose applications we passed on, checked, they really take it away, everything works. Itʼs great, Iʼm happy, because this is a great cooperation between the state and public organizations. If an application arrives at our hotline, we go and pick it up ourselves, we donʼt burden other organizations, we donʼt burden the state, we do it ourselves.

Approximately how many volunteers are there? Are there enough hands there, or does someone else need to go?

In my opinion, you should not immediately rush off and go somewhere unknown. It is better to contact those who already work there, are already coordinating the work. I know that even "Nova Poshta" made delivery to its Kherson warehouse free of charge. Please, if you have volunteers you know, if you have any channels to contact those who are already working there, donʼt do it chaotically, donʼt rush and leave, especially under fire. If you just arrive mindlessly, you wonʼt understand what to do, youʼll just waste your time. Join those who are already working, and ask what is needed.

Translated from Ukrainian, edited and shortened for clarity by Anton Semyzhenko.