Russia is hit by the biggest flood in decades on the border between Europe and Asia. In the Orenburg region at the southern foothills of the Ural Mountains, the peak of the Ural River tidal wave was expected on Friday and Saturday. A mass evacuation was announced in Orenburg, the capital of the region with more than half a million inhabitants. Tens of thousands of people have already lost their belongings; their houses and gardens are under water. And while spring floods return to Russia every year after the snow melts, the handling of this year's disaster still highlights the plight of the world's largest country.

After a snowy winter, the Ural River carries more water than at any time since records began. More than 80 years ago, in 1942, there was a major flood with a water level of 9.4 meters, Orenburg Governor Denis Pasler said during a video call with President Vladimir Putin on Thursday. On Friday afternoon, the water level in Orenburg was nearly 11.5 meters, the Tass news agency reported, citing the authorities. Mayor Sergei Salmin called on residents of several districts to leave their homes. “This is not a practice warning,” he wrote on Telegram. “These water levels are dangerous.”

“Putin, help!”

Experts expected the water level to rise to 11.6 meters in the Urals. The 2,400-kilometer-long river, defined by geographers as part of the border between Europe and Asia, flows south through Kazakhstan to the Caspian Sea. There is also a flood warning in Kazakhstan. About 100,000 people have been evacuated from there.

“Putin, help!” shouted the crowd earlier in the week in the large city of Orsk, which was the first to suffer from the floods in the Urals. In all of Russia's troubles, hopes are directed first of all to the ruler of the Kremlin. However, the president, who was re-elected in March with an allegedly record-breaking result, has not yet visited the flooded area – just as he did not appear during the winter heating blackouts in many cities or after a serious terrorist attack in one city. Moscow concert hall with more than 140 dead.

Putin is being kept informed and giving instructions, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov and other government officials have said for days. On Thursday, the Kremlin published a transcript of a video link with the governors of the affected regions. Then Putin listened to their presentations, briefly thanked them – and that was it.

Trouble due to a broken dam

There are many local complaints about the authorities' slow crisis management. The media speculates whether the civil defense department has thinned out in terms of personnel, because Russia has needed men for the war of aggression against Ukraine for two years. Governor Pasler made himself unpopular when he met with the victims in Orsk. Asked what responsibility he bears, he reportedly asked if everyone shared responsibility for the flood.

Alexander Kurenkov, the Minister of Special Situations sent by Putin to the flood area, also caused outrage, explaining to the cameras that the authorities had warned residents about the flood in advance – a week before the flood began – and asked them to evacuate. A very clear false claim, as the local authorities had dismissed the matter only a few days before the accident.

The dam in Orsk, broken in several places, became a symbol of discontent. The ten-kilometer-long dam, which was allegedly built at a cost of one billion rubles (ten million euros), was actually supposed to protect the city. The manager of the construction company claimed that apparently the rodents had damaged the dam. Moscow's Construction Minister Irek Faisullin called it ridiculous. Rather, the uninsured embankment was not worth a billion rubles. “The way I see it, you can't call it a dam,” he said. However, no one could have predicted a ten-meter-high flood.

The number of 200,000 emergency requests received in the Orenburg region by Friday shows how many people are affected. 20,000 rubles (approximately 200 euros) are paid to bridge the gap and 50,000 rubles in case of loss of property.

The floods also spread to the neighboring Siberian regions of Kurgan and Tyumen. Siberian rivers flow into the Arctic Ocean. Flooding occurs regularly as meltwater from the south collects on the still frozen sections of the river. As a precaution, an effective Russian remedy was implemented on the Tobol River: an Orthodox priest with an icon flew down the river in a helicopter to prevent the worst floods.