U.S. philanthrophist Buffett raps international response to Kakhovka dam destruction

KYIV (Reuters) – The son of one of the United States’ richest men criticised the international disaster response to the destruction of the Kakhovka dam in southern Ukraine this month as “disappointing” and inadequate, as he visited the nearby city of Kherson.

Howard Buffett, a businessman and philanthropist, spoke to Reuters in an interview by Zoom on Tuesday, two weeks after Kherson and dozens of other settlements were hit by catastrophic flooding when the dam was destroyed on June 6.

Buffett, whose foundation has committed $450 million to Ukraine, was in Kherson taking part in the distribution of aid.

“It’s disappointing. It’s hard to understand, to be honest with you. There are certain organisations that are set up to really respond to emergencies. They do it all over the world and they’ve done it for years,” he said.

The city of Kherson was liberated in November last year after months of Russian occupation and rapidly found itself on the new front line, coming under heavy shelling.

Thousands of people have now been forced to evacuate homes flooded in the war zone, vast nature preserves have been wiped out and the destruction to irrigation systems may cripple agriculture across much of southern Ukraine for decades.

Buffett said the international disaster response needed to be stepped up, describing houses that had collapsed in the flooding, others where water was being pumped out of them and others that were still completely submerged.

“There’s just not a lot of activity here. People really need it, they really need the water. It’s a mess,” he said.

“There’s a lot of help needed here. I’ve been really surprised that the international community has not responded with a much broader and stronger help.”

His comments echoed President Volodymyr Zelenskiy who expressed shock on June 7 at what he said was the failure of the United Nations and the Red Cross to offer rapid help.

Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of deliberately sabotaging the dam, which has been in Russian hands since shortly after the start of Russia’s invasion in February 2022.

Western countries say they are still gathering evidence but believe Ukraine would have had no reason to inflict such a catastrophe on itself.

Buffett has travelled to Ukraine several times during the war. His foundation has delivered farm equipment, combines and tractors and has helped with demining in the Kherson region, he said. His father is billionaire investor Warren Buffett.

(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; editing by Mark Heinrich)