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MOSCOW (Reuters) -The southern reach of the Dnipro river is likely to return to its banks by June 16 following a vast flood unleashed by the breach of Ukraine's Kakhovka dam this week, a Russian-installed official said on Saturday.
The flood has inundated towns and villages below the dam, trapping residents and sweeping away entire houses on both sides of the Dnipro, which separates Ukrainian-controlled Kherson province from the southern section that Russian forces control.
Vladimir Saldo, who heads the Russian-controlled part, said the water level at Nova Kakhovka, the town adjacent to the dam on the downstream side, had now dropped by 3 metres (10 feet) from Tuesday's peak.
"The pumping of water and garbage collection from the streets have started," he said.
Late on Saturday, Saldo added that almost 7,000 people had now been evacuated from the flooded districts of Nova Kakhovka, including 323 children, while 77 people have been hospitalised.
He said preliminary calculations by the Russian hydroelectricity producer RusHydro indicated the Dnipro would return to its usual course below the now-destroyed Kakhovka power station by June 16.
Saldo also accused Ukraine of shelling temporary refuges for those displaced by the flood, saying one woman had died as the result of the attacks. He posted a picture of a destroyed building, saying it was a hotel.
Reuters could not independently verify the assertion of shelling, which echoes similar allegations made in recent days. There was no immediate comment from Kyiv. Ukraine has also accused Moscow's forces of shelling and killing civilians located on flooded territory that it controls.
Ukraine has accused Russia of blowing up the hydroelectric power station and dam from inside the plant, which had been under Russian control since the early weeks of what Russia calls a "special military operation" more than a year ago. Moscow has blamed Ukraine.
Separately, the Russian-backed governor of Crimea, which Moscow seized from Ukraine and claimed to have annexed in 2014, said air defences had downed two Ukrainian ballistic missiles, and that there had been no damage or casualties.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Andrea Ricci)