‘First there was the war; now this’ - Ukrainian in Ireland on dam attack that destroyed her home

For Nadiia Hulevych, there was relief when Russia left Kherson after eight months of occupation. ‘And then the floods came’

Nadiia Hulevych, from Kherson in Ukraine but living in Dublin for nearly two years, says she has been crying continually since the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

“First there was the war, now this. My home has been through too much,” Nadiia Hulevych says through tears as she talks about the flood in Ukraine this week caused by the destruction of a dam which held some 18 cubic kilometres of water.

Originally from Kherson, which is badly impacted by the flood, Hulevych grew up there for 17 years before temporarily moving to Kharkiv to study medicine.

“It’s where my family home is, it’s where my life is, and now several districts are under water,” she says.

“I got sent pictures and videos just a three-minute walk from my house. Some houses are covered in water really high up – four or five metres. Unfortunately the districts that flooded have mostly one-floor houses. It’s a disaster”.


Hulevych came to Ireland almost two years ago, before the war, to work in medicine. When Russia invaded Ukraine, she drove to Poland to help her family evacuate and come with her to Ireland.

But they had hoped to return home some day, and are now unsure of what the future might hold after both the war and the flood.

Thousands of Ukrainians faced evacuation from their homes near the Dnipro river after the huge Nova Kakhovka dam was destroyed this week, in what Kyiv and top European officials described as another potential war crime committed by Russia’s invasion force.

Hundreds of people were evacuated from settlements along Ukraine's Dnipro River after flooding spread from the destroyed dam in Nova Kakhovka. Video: Reuters

Russia’s army seized the dam and surrounding Kherson region shortly after launching its full invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. It was forced out of areas on the western side of the Dnipro last November and is now braced for Ukrainian military operations that could aim to cross the river and retake swathes of territory on the eastern bank.

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Russia denied responsibility for the destruction of the dam. Several of Kyiv’s western allies blamed Russia for the disaster, however, and pledged to help Ukraine with equipment to cope with the floodwaters.

“I used to live in an apartment block before I left Kherson, so my family’s apartment is on the ninth floor and it isn’t affected. But the first two floors are covered so there is no access to the ninth floor,” Hulevych explains.

While her family is not there, many of her cherished neighbours are, and it is particularly distressing for Hulevych to see “many pictures of dead bodies of dogs and other animals” in the water.

“People had to leave urgently because the water was coming in fast. In the pictures you can just see a sea of water and dead animals,” she says.

“Lots of organisations are going to try help and I sent some money yesterday but it takes time. For example, the trip from Kyiv to Kherson takes eight hours by car, and the water is still coming in.”

Hulevych fights back tears as she thinks about the struggle her home city has faced in the past year.

“I’ve been crying since yesterday morning to be honest. Our whole life is there,” she says.

“Kherson went through a lot – first the war began and [the city] had been under occupation for eight months. People went through hell. At some point I lost my hope and I thought Kherson would never be free again but when Ukraine got it back people were so happy. Even if it [is] still the war, there was some relief when the Russians left there. And then the floods came.”

Hulevych’s grandmother lives with her in Dublin but misses Kherson so much that her family bought her tickets to return to Kherson later in June as the occupation there had ended.

“But now we don’t know if she can return, or what she would even return to.”

Hulevych says she works with a humanitarian agency with displaced people “so I don’t have time to suffer or cry. I have to work and help the refugees here. Now we expect even more refugees to come.”

Jade Wilson

Jade Wilson

Jade Wilson is a reporter for The Irish Times