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Teenagers try to get through the flooded street in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, on June 8.Anton Skyba/The Globe and Mail

Oleh Scherbak had four days off from the war. But the simple luxury of a day at the beach with his family proved impossible, as the consequences of the latest disaster caused by the Russian invasion of his country continued to spread on Thursday.

The torrent of water unleashed by Tuesday’s destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam has now surged down the Dnipro River, causing the Dnipro Gulf at its southern end to swell, and pushing the floodwaters up a different waterway, the Southern Bug River. On Thursday, the waters began to rise in Mr. Scherbak’s home city of Mykolaiv, swamping beaches and waterfront restaurants in this port almost 200 kilometres away from the initial disaster.

“I just wanted to have a swim with my family – but where can we do that now? There’s no beach anymore,” said the 54-year-old mechanic, who works to keep Ukraine’s fleet of warplanes in the sky. “This just shows why we need to win this war.”

Mr. Scherbak’s message echoed that of President Volodymyr Zelensky, who visited Mykolaiv on Thursday, as well as the partially submerged city of Kherson, which came under Russian artillery fire shortly after he left. “We must focus the world’s attention on eliminating the consequences of another catastrophe caused by Russia, and we must prevent further destructive activity of the occupiers,” Mr. Zelensky wrote on his Telegram channel.

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By the end of Thursday, the effects of the disaster were visible even further away in the Black Sea port of Odesa, 300 kilometres from the exploded dam.

“In the sea area near the coast of Odesa, mines and unexplored ammunition, as well as fragments of buildings and trees have already been recorded,” Odesa governor Oleh Kiper wrote on Telegram.

At least nine people were injured in the shelling, which struck the centre of Kherson as rescuers were trying to evacuate residents trapped in their homes by the rising waters. Videos posted online showed shells slamming the mini-lake that has filled the city’s Shipbuilders’ Square since the dam explosion, sending plumes of smoke and water into the sky as rescue workers dove for the limited cover available inside their small boats.

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Oleh Scherbak, a mechanic for Ukraine's Air Force, came for a short vacation to the flooded city of Mykolaiv.Anton Skyba/The Globe and Mail

The Nova Kakhovka dam – a 30-metre-high structure constructed when both Ukraine and Russia were part of the Soviet Union – burst early Tuesday, destroying the attached hydroelectric plant and unleashing the 18 million cubic metres of water stored in the Kakhovka Reservoir.

Ukraine, which accuses Russia of destroying the facility with undersea explosives, has called the act an intentional war crime that will have devastating effects on the region’s ecology and agricultural industry. Russia says the dam was destroyed by a Ukrainian missile strike, a version of events that most experts say there is little evidence to support.

Thousands of people from Kherson and nearby towns have been forced from their homes by the disaster, which has flooded 600 square kilometres of land, ruining crops, disrupting electricity supplies and dislodging landmines. The mines could pose a long-term risk to civilians.

“In the past we knew where the hazards were. Now we don’t know. All we know is that they are somewhere downstream,” said Erik Tollefsen, head of the Weapon Contamination Unit at the International Committee of the Red Cross. “The risk would worsen when the water recedes because debris will be covering, potentially, the mines.”

Five people have been reported dead in the worst-hit town of Nova Kakhovka, on the Russian-controlled side of the river, and three more in the nearby town of Oleshky, where residents have been seen camping on the roofs of their submerged homes. On the Ukrainian side, a 53-year-old man reportedly died in the Mykolaiv region on Thursday, a day after he reportedly refused to evacuate.

The Dnipro has risen an average of 5.6 metres since the dam burst, according to the Kherson regional government, while the Southern Bug river had risen just over one metre as of midday on Thursday.

Later in the day, the national Ukrenergo electricity supplier said water levels in the Kakhovka Reservoir had fallen below the “dead point” necessary to continue supplying the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant with cooling water.

Anton Geraschenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s Interior Minister, wrote on Twitter that “currently Zaporizhzhia NPP has its water pond full and that will be enough for up to three months, according to estimates. But a sustainable decision must be found or the world will be in danger of a nuclear catastrophe.”

The destruction of the dam came amid the first signs that Ukraine has begun a long-anticipated counteroffensive aimed at liberating Russian-occupied areas in the south and east of the country.

The sudden widening of the Dnipro River has forced Russian troops and equipment to pull back five to 15 kilometres from the previous front line, Ukraine’s Southern Military Command said, while also making the river – which forms the de facto front line in parts of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions – more difficult for either army to try and cross.

Russia claims the Ukrainian campaign has begun, and that the Ukrainians have already suffered heavy losses in a failed attempt to break through Russian defensive lines in the Zaporizhzhia region.

While Ukraine’s military leadership has remained silent about the timing of the counteroffensive, Britain’s Ministry of Defence wrote in its daily update that “heavy fighting continues along multiple sectors of the front. In most areas Ukraine holds the initiative.”

Mykolaiv was itself on the front line for most of the first nine months of the war, as Russian troops seized Kherson early in the 15-month-old invasion and pressed west toward the historic port of Odesa. Mykolaiv has taken on a more relaxed feel since November, when Ukrainian troops retook Kherson.

That new sense of normalcy was swept away by the rising waters on Thursday.

“Things were just getting better,” said Andrey Stanislavovych, the manager of a Greek restaurant on the Mykolaiv waterfront that was forced to close Thursday as water slowly filled its patio. “There are some moments when we could almost forget about the period when the city was under attack. Then this happened.”

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