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A drone image of the destruction in Bakhmut. Soldiers from Yevgeny V. Prigozhin’s Wagner Group proved key in capturing the city in May.Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

The feud between Russia’s government and Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, the outspoken mercenary tycoon, escalated sharply on Friday, as Mr. Prigozhin accused the military of attacking his forces, vowed to retaliate and declared on social media that Russia’s “evil” military leadership “must be stopped.” Russian law enforcement immediately accused him of fomenting an “armed rebellion.”

There was no immediate sign the conflict between the mercenary leader and military leaders would ignite armed clashes on the ground in Russia, but the fast-moving developments late Friday evening represented the most dramatic internal conflict inside the country to spill into the open since President Vladimir V. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine began 16 months ago.

“The evil carried by the country’s military leadership must be stopped,” Mr. Prigozhin said in one of a series of voice recordings posted to the Telegram social network after 9 p.m. Moscow time.

Minutes later, he suggested that his Wagner mercenary force was prepared to go on the offensive against Russia’s own Defense Ministry, saying, “There’s 25,000 of us, and we are going to figure out why chaos is happening in the country.”

Russia’s Anti-Terrorism Committee, a law enforcement body, quickly issued a statement asserting that “the allegations spread on behalf of Yevgeny Prigozhin have no basis.”

“In connection with these statements, the F.S.B. of Russia initiated a criminal case on suspicion of calling for an armed rebellion,” the committee said, referring to the initials for Russia’s domestic intelligence agency. “We demand an immediate stop to these unlawful actions.”

Mr. Prigozhin has attacked the Defense Ministry for months, asserting that Russia’s top brass have refused to provide Wagner forces with needed ammunition even as they fought alongside the Russian military for control of the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut. But on Friday, he took his accusations to a new level, claiming that the Russian military had attacked Wagner encampments, killing “a huge number of fighters.”

In a 30-minute video released earlier in the day, Mr. Prigozhin had described his country’s invasion of Ukraine as a “racket” perpetrated by a corrupt elite chasing money and glory without concern for Russian lives.

For months the Russian war effort has been hampered by the bitter feud between Mr. Prigozhin and top military leaders, whom he has accused in scathing terms of incompetence in conducting the war.

But the accusations Mr. Prigozhin leveled in audio and videotaped messages posted on Friday raised the stakes. Never before had Mr. Prigozhin accused Russia’s military leaders of attacking his forces, nor had asserted in such stark terms that the Kremlin’s stated justification for the war was nonsense.

He accused the Russian minister of defense, Sergei K. Shoigu, of orchestrating a deadly attack with missiles and helicopters on camps to the rear of the Russian lines in Ukraine, where his soldiers of fortune were bivouacked. And he accused Mr. Shoigu of overseeing the strikes himself from the town of Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia, near Ukraine.

The mercenary leader’s claims could not be immediately verified. The Russian defense ministry denied the allegations, saying in a statement that the messages Mr. Prigozhin had posted about supposed strikes on Wagner camps “do not correspond to reality.”

Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, said that Mr. Putin was “aware of all events around Prigozhin,” according to Interfax, a Russian news agency.

Mr. Prigozhin’s accusations created a ripple effect among Russian pro-war activists, who fear that an open conflict between the army and Wagner forces could threaten the Russian front lines during the Ukrainian counteroffensive. In Ukraine, some viewed his statements as more evidence of internal divisions within the Russian war effort.

In an earlier videotaped speech, Mr. Prigozhin did not explicitly impugn Mr. Putin, instead casting him as a leader being misled by his officials. But in dismissing the Kremlin’s narrative that the invasion was an existential necessity for the Russian nation, Mr. Prigozhin went farther than anyone in Russia’s security establishment in publicly challenging the wisdom of the war.

“The war wasn’t needed to return Russian citizens to our bosom, nor to demilitarize or denazify Ukraine,” Mr. Prigozhin said, referring to Mr. Putin’s initial justifications for the war. “The war was needed so that a bunch of animals could simply exult in glory.”

Friday’s diatribes deepened the enigma of Mr. Prigozhin’s ambiguous role in Mr. Putin’s system. His Wagner troops, composed of veteran fighters as well as thousands of convicts whom Mr. Prigozhin personally recruited from Russian prisons, proved key in capturing the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut in May after a monthslong battle.

But, during the battle for Bakhmut, Mr. Prigozhin also emerged as a populist political figure, excoriating Russia’s military leadership for corruption and for not providing his forces with enough ammunition. His angry recordings and videos posted to the Telegram messaging network cast top military and Kremlin officials as unaware and uncaring of the struggles of regular Russian soldiers.

So far, Mr. Putin has not reined in Mr. Prigozhin, even as his security forces have jailed or fined thousands of Russians for criticizing the military or opposing the war. Some people who know Mr. Putin have said they believe that he still sees Mr. Prigozhin as a loyal servant applying needed pressure on a sprawling military apparatus. Others theorize that the Kremlin has orchestrated Mr. Prigozhin’s tirades against Mr. Shoigu, the defense minister, to deflect blame from Mr. Putin himself.

But Friday’s statements complicated the picture, with Mr. Prigozhin going after not just Mr. Shoigu but also unnamed “oligarchs” around Mr. Putin, while casting the entire official rhetoric around the invasion as a sham. He said there was “nothing out of the ordinary” in Ukraine’s military posture on the eve of the February 2022 invasion — challenging the Kremlin’s justification that Ukraine was on the verge of attacking Russian-backed separatist territory in Ukraine’s east.

“Our holy war with those who offend the Russian people, with those who are trying to humiliate them, has turned into a racket,” he said.

The comments come as Russia fights to hold back Ukraine’s counteroffensive — a fight that Mr. Prigozhin asserted in his video was going much more poorly for Russia than the government was letting on. On Telegram, pro-war commentators quickly pushed back against that assertion, including Igor Girkin, a former paramilitary commander who himself has often criticized Russia’s top brass.

“Prigozhin already should have been handed over to a military tribunal for many things,” Mr. Girkin wrote. “Now also for treason.”

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A woman outside her burning house after a Russian attack in Kherson, Ukraine, this month.Credit…Felipe Dana/Associated Press

KYIV, Ukraine — Shelling killed three municipal workers in Kherson on Friday morning, the latest deadly attack in a relentless Russian bombardment of the southern Ukrainian city that has complicated efforts to assess the toll of the Kakhovka dam disaster.

The attacks came as the authorities are still working to establish how many people died when the Kakhovka dam, which lies upstream from Kherson, was destroyed this month. While the floodwaters unleashed by the dam’s destruction have receded significantly, the human toll remains unclear more than two weeks after the disaster.

As the ecological impact has started to come into focus, it has been extremely difficult to determine how many people were killed in the wide-scale flooding as waters rushed downstream and engulfed residential areas. At least 21 people have been confirmed dead and more than 100 people are still missing, according to Ukrainian officials.

But parts of the Kherson region are occupied by Russian forces, and the Ukrainian authorities say they do not have a clear picture of the human toll in those areas. Oleksandr Tolokonnikov, a spokesman for the Kherson regional military administration, said that the number of victims could be very high in Russian-held areas, but that an accurate assessment had not been possible. Russian officials have released scant information about the conditions in these areas.

“All we can get is the number of dead from the hospital,” Mr. Tolokonnikov told Ukraine’s Radio Svoboda this week. So far, about 11 people have been reported killed in the Russian-held town of Oleshky and the same number in Hola Prystan, a town farther south.

Constant shelling from Russian-held areas has complicated efforts to assess the losses on the Ukrainian-held side of the Dnipro River as well.

Oleksandr Prokudin, the head of the Kherson regional military administration, initially said two city workers had been killed on Friday and five others hospitalized when a Russian bombardment hit their building on Friday morning. A third man died later from his wounds, Mr. Prokudin said in a post on the Telegram messaging app.

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Soldiers from Ukraine’s 68th Brigade trying to avoid a Russian strike in Blahodatne, Ukraine, last week.Credit…David Guttenfelder for The New York Times

After three slow weeks of only modest gains during Ukraine’s long-awaited counter offensive, the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces told a British newspaper that he had yet to commit the main body of the country’s Western-trained offensive brigades to the fight and that his troops were still probing for weaknesses along Russia’s defensive lines.

“Everything is still ahead,” the commander, Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi, 57, said in an interview with The Guardian from a military base in eastern Ukraine. His statement echoed what many Ukrainian officials and independent military analysts have said about the counteroffensive’s inching progress.

Ukrainian officials say that only three of the 12 combat brigades supplied and trained by the U.S. and NATO allies so far have been engaged in fighting. Each brigade has about 4,000 troops.

“Real war is not a Hollywood blockbuster. The counteroffensive is not a new season of a Netflix show,” a Ukrainian presidential adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, wrote on Twitter. “There is no need to expect action and buy popcorn.”

Earlier this week, Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, also tried to tamp down expectations for the counteroffensive, saying the push to retake occupied territory from Russia was bound to be a tedious and slow process.

Still, Mr. Zelensky acknowledged that demonstrating progress was critical to motivating his own troops and reassuring foreign backers who have already poured billions of dollars into the war.

So far, Ukrainian forces say they’ve recaptured a string of villages in the south as they hunt for vulnerabilities along the 600-mile front line. As those forces advance, they are encountering extensive defensive fortifications.

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Credit…David Guttenfelder for The New York Times

KYIV, Ukraine — A day after President Volodymyr Zelensky warned of the potential for Russian sabotage at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, government agencies were laying out steps that residents could take to prepare for a nuclear disaster.

Though officials urged people to remain calm, at one pharmacy in the capital there was already a sharp uptick of people looking for potassium iodide pills.

“We are completely sold out,” said a worker at the Wholesale Prices Pharmacy, Denys Yakymenko, adding that one man had come in to buy seven boxes of the tablets in what Mr. Yakymenko saw as panic purchasing. “Last year, we had it as well.”

Another nearby pharmacy attached to a clinic, however, had not seen panic buying. Only one person had come looking for the medication, workers there said.

Potassium iodide is used to saturate a person’s thyroid with iodine so that radioactive iodine inhaled or ingested after exposure will not be retained by the gland. The tablets are one way to combat the effects of radiation exposure.

The Ukrainian capital is more than 340 miles from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, but there have been significant concerns about the safety of the plant, particularly in recent days, and a disaster there could affect an area of hundreds of miles.

On Thursday, Mr. Zelensky said that Ukrainian intelligence “has received information that Russia is considering the scenario of a terrorist act at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant — a terrorist act with the release of radiation.”

While Russia has denied the accusation, some in Ukraine were preparing for the worst.

Ukrainians have been through similar scares before, as escalations in the war led many to prepare for Russia to target the nuclear power plant or the deployment of a tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine.

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Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Concerns about an accident at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant have risen in recent weeks, as Ukraine has mounted a counteroffensive in the region and the Kakhovka dam was destroyed by an explosion, draining a reservoir used to feed a key cooling pond at the plant. The head of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog agency warned earlier this week of an “extremely fragile” security situation at the plant.

Then came a cryptic warning on Wednesday from Ukraine’s military intelligence chief, Kyrylo Budanov, that the Russians had mined the cooling pond, a charge that Moscow denied and that U.N. inspectors at the plant said they had seen no evidence of. Finally, Mr. Zelensky raised the alarm on Thursday.

Ukraine’s interior minister, Ihor Klymenko, said in a televised address on Friday that the government was convening engineers, representatives of the state emergency services, the police and doctors to prepare for an attack or act of sabotage at the plant that might release radiation. He urged people to remain calm and follow instructions from the authorities.

“The radioactive background that may be present in the air after any events will last for about one day,” he said. “We will reduce the radioactive background by 80 percent within a day.”

Mr. Klymenko said that in the case of a radiation release or a nuclear attack residents who are not instructed to evacuate should lock themselves in their rooms, close windows and turn off air conditioners to limit their exposure to radiation.

“We will clearly give all the instructions and all the rules of behavior during this time,” Mr. Klymenko said.

He also noted that exercises would be held in the coming days to prepare, but added that equipment for measuring radiation levels in Ukraine was ready for use.

Megan Specia and Oleksandr Chubko

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A memorial for a 9-year-old girl who died when she was unable to get inside a bomb shelter in Kyiv in early June.Credit…Nicole Tung for The New York Times

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine castigated the management of Ukraine’s network of bomb shelters on Friday, saying many were in poor shape and promising a personnel shake-up to remedy what he called a “cynical and shameful” situation.

Mr. Zelensky had ordered an inspection of the shelters after a missile attack in Kyiv killed two women and a child — including a mother and her 9-year-old daughter — who were not able to get into a locked bomb shelter in early June. The deaths prompted criticism, multiple criminal investigations and widespread mourning in Kyiv.

“Accessible and reliable shelters across the country should be and will be a priority for leaders at all levels,” he said on Friday. He called the situation particularly galling in cities, like Kyiv, that have significant financial resources.

Mr. Zelensky said that the prosecutor general had taken legal action to reopen shelters that had been illegally withdrawn from their communities. Authorities have launched an investigation into the circumstances of the June 1 attack, detaining four people — a local government official, a security guard, the director and the deputy director of the clinic — for questioning.

In a city with hundreds of shelters that have experienced increasing aerial attacks in recent weeks, some Kyiv residents have found it difficult to find safety during bombardments. In the days following the deadly June 1 explosion, residents grieved, erecting makeshift memorials of flowers, stuffed animals and candles where the three had been killed.

Ukraine’s interior minister found that nearly 900 of the 4,800 shelters checked at the time were unsuitable for use. Many bomb shelters around the country are closed and there are few penalties for leaving a shelter locked, according to investigations by The Center for Civil Liberties, the Nobel Prize-winning Ukrainian human rights organization, and volunteers at OZON, a watchdog monitoring Ukrainian law enforcement agencies and local government.

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Ukrainian soldiers from the 28th Mechanized Brigade south of Bakhmut, Ukraine, firing at Russian positions.Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

OVERVIEW: Moscow’s forces have been trying to advance in eastern Ukraine even as they endeavor to hold off a Ukrainian counteroffensive to the south. In the Donetsk region, Russian troops have been aiming to push toward four municipalities, according to Ukrainian defense officials: Avdiivka, Bakhmut, Lyman and Marinka. Ukrainian forces reclaimed Lyman in October; Russian forces seized Bakhmut last month after the war’s bloodiest battle; and Moscow has been fighting to take Marinka and Avdiivka for more than a year.

THE LATEST: Hanna Malyar, a deputy Ukrainian defense minister, said on Friday that Ukrainian forces had halted an attempted Russian push in the directions of both Lyman and Kupiansk, a Ukrainian-controlled town in the Kharkiv region in the country’s northeast. “Our defense forces stopped the enemy’s offensive” in both directions, Ms. Malyar said in a post on the Telegram messaging app.

Russia did not immediately provide an account of fighting in the area, and it was not possible to verify Ukraine’s claim. The Ukrainian Army’s general staff said on Friday that Russian forces had continued to focus on Avdiivka, Bakhmut, Lyman and Marinka, with over 30 clashes in those areas in the preceding day.

WHY IT MATTERS: Even as Ukrainian forces focus the initial phase of their counteroffensive in the southeast, aiming to retake areas occupied by Russian forces, they are still on the defensive in a number of areas in the east. The areas where Ms. Malyar said Russian forces were trying to advance in Donetsk have been the scene of fierce fighting almost since the start of Moscow’s full-scale invasion 16 months ago. All four have been deeply scarred by artillery and other fire, with only a handful of civilians remaining in each.

Because of the nature of the fighting, in which both sides have dug extensive trenches to withstand constant artillery attacks, military experts say that it is easier to defend ground than to advance. As a result, while the Ukrainians may have the upper hand in defending their positions in the Donetsk region, they could face a harder task in trying to wrest back territory in the southeast. Ukrainian officials have repeatedly said that it will take time before their long-anticipated counteroffensive shows substantive results.

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President Biden and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India at the White House on Thursday.Credit…Pete Marovich for The New York Times

In addressing a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Thursday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India gingerly sidestepped any mention of Russia, saying, “With the Ukraine conflict, war has returned to Europe.”

“It is causing great pain in the region. Since it involves major powers, the outcomes are severe,” he said, without naming those powers.

But as Mr. Modi hewed to his country’s line of strict neutrality on the war in Ukraine in his four-day state visit to the United States, Russia and its decades-long role as India’s biggest arms supplier was a pertinent backdrop to the pledges of closer defense cooperation between the United States and India.

With President Biden, he announced a deal for coproduction in India of engines for fighter aircraft; a $3 billion purchase of about 30 American Reaper drones by India; and a road map to expand cooperation between the two countries’ defense industries. The two leaders also praised new agreements on intelligence sharing and space-based quantum and other strategic technologies.

In helping India expand its defense manufacturing and diversify the sources of its arms, the Biden administration is seeking to ease India away from its long reliance on Russia for its military equipment, born of decades of U.S. policy when it held back on sales to India and instead supplied its chief rival, Pakistan.

Russia remains India’s largest supplier of arms, though it accounts for a smaller share than in years past.

The defense cooperation with the United States is also attractive to India because it will help the country toward its aim of strengthening domestic manufacturing and reducing dependence on foreign partners, whose supplies come with geopolitical strings.

Since Russia’s full-scale invasion, India has remained on the sidelines of efforts by the United States and its allies to isolate Russia economically and choke off its ability to fund the war. Mr. Modi has maintained military and economic ties with Russia and has stopped short of denouncing its war in Ukraine. India remains a major buyer of Russian oil.

At the same time, India has sought closer ties with the United States. Mr. Biden has called U.S. ties to India the “defining relationship of the 21st century,” and his administration has said it hopes to improve the countries’ economic and security relationship to help counter China’s growing influence.

When the United Nations voted in 2022 to condemn the invasion and remove Russia from its Human Rights Council, India abstained both times.

In April 2022, Mr. Biden urged Mr. Modi not to increase India’s reliance on Russian oil and gas. Even so, India’s oil imports from Russia have risen drastically. In a little over a year, it went from purchasing hardly any Russian oil to buying about half of what the country exports by sea.

Mujib Mashal and Alex Travelli contributed reporting.

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Two Fairchild A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft, of the United States Air Force, at Lechfeld Air Base during a media event this month.Credit…Alexander Koerner/Getty Images

LECHFELD AIR BASE, Germany — Flying a 50,000-pound attack jet while 10,000 feet above Earth may not be the best time for a language lesson. But it was part of the drills that Maj. Greg Kirk of the Idaho Air National Guard had to decipher last week as he sought clarity on his mission from a heavily accented German military air traffic controller issuing the orders.

English is the lingua franca for most military air forces, and the German joint terminal attack controller was fluent, but with his accent he was hard to understand over the headset feedback in Major Kirk’s A-10 jet.

“I know what he’s trying to say now,” Major Kirk said three days into the exercises. “Training together with all of our NATO partners over the week — things are moving now, things are happening a lot more efficiently.”

The joint air power exercises, which end on Friday after a 12-day run, have been the largest in NATO’s history. They involve 250 aircraft and around 10,000 personnel from 25 nations. Conducted in several places in Germany, they were planned well before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine 16 months ago.

But the implications in the face of the current conflict, the largest in Europe since World War II, could not be more obvious. “As we face the biggest security crisis in a generation,” said Oana Lungescu, the NATO spokeswoman, “we stand united to keep our countries and our people safe.”

Yet language barriers are not the only problem the air defense teams have been working on. Even the most fearsome warplanes and other weapons depend upon effective communications, a particular problem when they can be drawn from any of the numerous alliance members who may use dissimilar encryption systems or instruments tailored differently even on the same aircraft. And flight instructions can vary from country to country.

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Britain’s foreign secretary, James Cleverly, and Ukraine’s infrastructure minister, Oleksandr Kubrakov, at a conference in London on Thursday.Credit…Pool photo by Henry Nicholls

Western allies raised almost $66 billion toward Ukraine’s economic recovery and stability over a two-day donors’ conference hosted by the British government that came to a close on Thursday.

“Ukraine will rebuild. But they cannot do it alone,” the British foreign secretary, James Cleverly, said in a speech concluding the conference. “So together, as governments, as international organizations, as businesses, as representatives of civil society, we have shown Ukraine and the Ukrainian people that we stand with them.”

During the conference, Britain pledged $305 million in direct economic assistance to Ukraine and $3 billion in World Bank loan guarantees for the country over the next several years. The funds will help Ukraine regain macroeconomic stability, Mr. Cleverly said.

In addition, the United States announced $1.3 billion in new economic aid, to be directed toward overhauling Ukraine’s heavily damaged energy infrastructure and modernizing its ports, railways and border crossings.

Still, Mr. Cleverly’s tally of new aid includes the European Union’s previously announced $54 billion package to reconstruct Ukraine, which has yet to receive approval from all 27 member nations. And it falls far short of the $411 billion the World Bank has estimated would be needed to rebuild the country, with $14 billion needed this year for rebuilding important infrastructure.

On Wednesday, Ukraine’s prime minister, Denys Shmyhal, spoke of the steps necessary for his country’s recovery, both in the short and long term. He said Ukraine was still seeking about $6.5 billion more in aid to rebuild key infrastructure over the next year. “We have set an ambitious goal of securing pledges for this amount as a result of this conference,” he said.

Leaders at the gathering touched on the idea of using confiscated Russian public and private assets — which are estimated to be worth at least $300 billion — to help pay for reconstruction costs. Britain and the European Union are exploring legal pathways to using frozen Russian assets to support Ukraine.

In his address, Mr. Shmyhal said that Ukraine was preparing mechanisms to lay claim to the frozen Russian assets.

“One of the key questions we are constantly facing is who will pay the hundreds of billions for the recovery,” Mr. Shmyhal said. “First and foremost, Russia must pay for what it has destroyed.”

Mark Landler contributed reporting.

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At a beach in Odesa, Ukraine, this month. The destruction of a faraway dam has dumped debris and dangers into the Black Sea.Credit…Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

ODESA, Ukraine — Last summer, the beaches that ring the port city of Odesa in southern Ukraine were crowded with volunteers packing sandbags under bluffs where troops were positioned in machine gun nests as the threat of a Russian amphibious assault still loomed.

This summer was supposed to be different. In the first days of June, the sun was warm, the Black Sea was a shimmering blue and many Ukrainians were already packing the beaches despite an official ban on swimming.

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After a year’s absence because of the Russian invasion, the sun seekers who typically throng the Odesa waterfront started to return before the dam broke.Credit…Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

Then the Kakhovka dam was destroyed.

It released a torrent of water rushing down the Dnipro River, washing over towns and villages across southern Ukraine. Thousands of houses and businesses were flooded, vast stretches of rich farmland were ravaged, and the full environmental and economic cost is likely to take years to measure.

The floods also carried mountains of debris out to the Black Sea — pieces of buildings, trees, appliances, boats, livestock carcasses and even instruments of war, like the land mines both Russian and Ukrainian forces had planted near the river. Now, the tides are carrying much of that to shore, along with a stew of toxic chemicals, fouling the famed beaches of Odesa and other coastal communities.

“The sea is turning into a garbage dump and animal cemetery,” Ukraine’s border guard agency warned last week. “The consequences of ecocide are terrible.”

Anna Lukinova and Evelina Riabenko contributed reporting.

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