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Russian authorities conceal deaths of at least five people in Orenburg Region flood

At least five people have been confirmed dead in the flooding in Russia’s Orenburg Region, according to a report by the independent investigative outlet Important Stories (IStories) citing relatives and volunteers. Russian authorities have not reported any deaths as a result of the mass flooding.

Four people died in Orsk itself: 65-year-old Sergei Larin, 82-year-old Zoya Stepanova, 70-year-old Yuri Larionov, and 57-year-old Rustam Akhmetov. 51-year-old Andrei Chernyshov, a resident of the village of Prigorodny in the Orenburg Region, also died as a result of the flood.

Sergei Larin, 65, lived on Chapaeva Street in Orsk. He refused to evacuate. Reports of his disappearance were published in local social media chats on April 9. Larin's relative confirmed his death in a conversation with journalists. A funeral was held, but morgue officials did not provide relatives with an official cause of death.

“Unfortunately, they said that the cause of death will be written in a month. They didn’t put hypothermia — we think on purpose, so as not to pay [compensation] and not to [spread] panic among residents. Because it turns out that this is not the only case of death due to flooding,” a relative of the deceased told IStories.

She claims that two other flood-related deaths were found on a city street, but journalists were unable to verify this information.

82-year-old Zoya Stepanova, who died as a result of the flood, was last in her house on Dokuchaeva Street in Orsk. Reports of her disappearance were published on April 8. On April 15, a friend of Stepanova's family told IStories that emergency workers had found her body.

70-year-old Yuri Larionov, who lived on Karl Marx Street in Orsk, failed to evacuate his house in time. According to an acquaintance of the family, the man’s relatives wrote a statement to the police, but there was too much water in the house for rescuers to conduct a search. When the water receded, rescuers found Larionov’s corpse in the property.

Rustam Akhmetov, 57, disappeared from his home on Kamanin Street in Orsk on April 7. He had been waiting for help from Russia’s Emergencies Ministry in the morning, but contact with Akhmetov was lost by noon. Notices about the search for him were published until April 11. His death was reported to IStories by a local volunteer searching for missing persons.

The residents of Orsk said that there are many more victims of the flood. “I can't give you the exact number, but [there are] many dead,” the volunteer told IStories. She recommended contacting “law enforcement agencies” for more details.

Satellite imagery of Orsk and the surrounding area one year before the floor (April 9, 2023)
Satellite imagery of Orsk and the surrounding area one year before the floor (April 9, 2023)
Source: Sirena, Copernicus Sentinel satellite data
Satellite imagery of Orsk and the surrounding area on April 14, 2024 — 9 days after the dam broke
Satellite imagery of Orsk and the surrounding area on April 14, 2024 — 9 days after the dam broke
Source: Sirena, Copernicus Sentinel satellite data

IStories also learned of two other missing residents of Orsk — pensioner Nina Solovyova, and her 49-year-old son Alim Satigulov. Their relatives have not been able to find them for more than 10 days.

The last time local authorities reported on the number of victims in Orsk was on April 7. At that time, four people were said to have died in the city, but the mayor's office claimed their deaths were not related to the flood. According to authorities, two had suffered heart attacks, one person died a natural death, and another committed suicide.

Melting mountain ice and heavy rainfall have caused rivers to swell, leading to prolonged flooding across the Russian Urals regions and neighboring Kazakhstan over the past two weeks.

The rising waters led to the break of an embankment dam in Orsk on the Ural River on April 5. The dam was built in 2014 for close to 1 billion roubles ($10.6 million) by a company close to the local authorities, as per an IStories report. The waters have reached the regional capital, Orenburg. Tens of thousands of homes have been submerged, and thousands of people have been evacuated from the affected areas. Orsk is home to close to 200,000 people.

Meanwhile, investigators from Alexei Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation (ACF) revealed that Nikolay Kozupitsa, the son of Vasily Kozupitsa, the mayor of Orsk, bought an apartment in Dubai one month ago. The apartment, located in the luxury residential complex Binghatti Nova, is estimated to have cost Kozupitsa 33 million roubles ($353,600).

As per the investigators, Nikolay Kozupitsa left Russia at the end of 2023, settling in Saudi Arabia after having obtained a residence permit there.

Nikolay’s father has been the mayor of Orsk since 2019. As for the dam, Mayor Kozupitsa claimed that the authorities had “inspected the hydraulic structures in advance.” He even inspected the dam personally on April 3, two days before it broke, and assessed its condition to be “satisfactory.”

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