Russian-installed authorities demand evacuation of Kherson ahead of expected Ukrainian advance

Russian-installed authorities told all residents of the city of Kherson to leave ‘immediately’ on Saturday ahead of an expected advance by Ukrainian troops leading a counteroffensive to retake one of the first urban areas Russia took after invaded the country.

“terrorist attacks” by Kyiv.

Kherson has been in Russian hands since the early days of Ukraine’s nearly eight-month war, which began Feb. 24. The city is the capital of a region of the same name, one of four that Russian President Vladimir Putin illegally annexed last month and then brought under Russian martial law.

On Friday, Ukrainian forces shelled Russian positions across the province, targeting pro-Kremlin forces’ supply routes across the Dnipro River and preparing for a final push to retake the city.

The Ukrainian army has recovered large areas in the north of the region since launching a counter-offensive in late August. He reported further success on Saturday, saying Russian troops had been forced to withdraw from the villages of Charivne and Chkalove in Beryslav district.

Members of the Russian Emergencies Ministry transport an elderly woman evacuated from the Russian-controlled city of Kherson to the town of Oleshky in Ukraine’s Kherson region on Saturday. (Alexander Ermoshenko/Reuters)

Russian-installed officials reportedly tried desperately to turn the city of Kherson – a primary target for both sides due to its key industries and major river and seaport – into a fortress while attempting to relocate tens of thousands of inhabitants.

The Kremlin has sent up to 2,000 conscripts to the surrounding region to replenish losses and reinforce frontline units, according to the Ukrainian army general staff.

Crossing a major river

The wide Dnipro River figures as a major factor in the fighting, making it difficult for Russia to supply its troops defending the city of Kherson and nearby areas on the west bank after relentless Ukrainian strikes rendered key points of passage unusable.

The takeover of Kherson allowed Russia to resume fresh water supply from the Dnipro to Crimea, cut off by Ukraine after Moscow’s annexation of the Black Sea peninsula. A large hydroelectric power station upstream of the city of Kherson is a key source of energy for the southern region. Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of trying to blow it up to flood the mostly flat region.

Kremlin-backed authorities in Kherson had earlier announced plans to evacuate all Russian-appointed officials and up to 60,000 civilians across the river, in what local leader Volodymyr Saldo said was a “organized and progressive displacement”.

Another Russian official installed on Saturday estimated that around 25,000 people from across the region crossed the Dnipro. In a Telegram article, Kirill Stremousov claimed that the civilians were moving voluntarily.

“People are actively moving because today the priority is life. We are not training anyone anywhere,” he said, in apparent response to Ukrainian and Western concerns over possible forced transfers by Moscow.

Ukrainian and Western officials have expressed concern about possible forcible transfers of residents to Russia or Russian-occupied territory.

Ukrainian officials have urged residents to resist attempts to move them, with a local official alleging Moscow wanted to take civilians hostage and use them as human shields.

Civilians evacuated from Kherson arrive by ferry to Oleshky on Saturday. (Alexander Ermoshenko/Reuters)

Key infrastructure under attack

Elsewhere, hundreds of thousands of people in central and western Ukraine woke up on Saturday to power cuts and periodic bursts of gunfire. In its latest war tactic, Russia has stepped up strikes against power plants, water supply systems and other key infrastructure across the country.

Ukraine’s air force said in a statement on Saturday that Russia had launched “a massive missile attack” targeting “critical infrastructure”, adding that it had shot down 18 of 33 cruise missiles launched from the air and the sea.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy later said Russia launched 36 missiles, most of which were shot down.

“These treacherous strikes on critically important facilities are characteristic terrorist tactics,” Zelenskyy said. “The world can and must stop this terror.”

Air raid sirens sounded twice across Ukraine in the early afternoon, sending residents rushing to shelters as Ukrainian air defenses tried to shoot down explosive drones and incoming missiles.

People visit a supermarket without electricity after a Russian missile attack in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, on Saturday. (Gleb Garanich/Reuters)

“Several rockets” targeting the capital were shot down on Saturday morning, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on Telegram messaging.

The presidential office said in its morning statement that five explosive-laden drones were shot down in the central region of Cherkasy, southeast of Kyiv.

Governors of six western and central provinces, as well as the southern region of Odessa on the Black Sea, made similar reports.

Ukraine’s top diplomat said on Saturday that the day’s attacks were proof that Ukraine needed new Western-bolstered air defense systems “without a minute’s delay”.

“Air defense saves lives,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote on Twitter.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential office, said on Telegram on Saturday that nearly 1.4 million homes lost power as a result of the strikes. He said some 672,000 homes in the western Khmelnytskyi region were affected, while another 242,000 suffered outages in the central province of Cherkasy.

Fears for the water supply

Most of the western city of Khmelnytskyi, which straddles the Bug River and was home to some 275,000 people before the war, was left without power shortly after local media reported several large explosions.

In a social media post on Saturday, the city council urged local residents to store water, “in case it also runs out within an hour.

A man collects fallen tree branches to use as firewood in Bakhmut, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine on Friday. (Carl Court/Getty Images)

The mayor of Lutsk, a city of 215,000 in far western Ukraine, made a similar appeal, saying electricity in the city had been partially cut off after Russian missiles hit local energy facilities. and damaged a power plant beyond repair.

The central city of Uman, a major pilgrimage site for Hasidic Jews which had a population of some 100,000 before the war, was also plunged into darkness after a rocket hit a nearby power station.

Ukraine’s state-owned energy company, Ukrenergo, responded to the strikes by announcing that blackouts would be imposed in Kyiv and 10 Ukrainian regions to stabilize the situation.

Alexei walks through his house, which was damaged by a missile strike, near the Russian border in the Kharkiv region of Ukraine on Friday. (Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters)

In a Facebook post on Saturday, the company accused Russia of attacking “energy facilities in major networks in western regions of Ukraine.” He claimed the scale of the destruction was comparable to the fallout from Moscow’s first coordinated attack on Ukraine’s energy grid earlier this month.

Ukrenergo and Kyiv officials urged Ukrainians to save energy. Earlier this week, Zelenskyy called on consumers to limit their energy use between 7 a.m. and 11 a.m. every day and to avoid using energy-hungry appliances such as electric heaters.

Zelenskyy said earlier in the week that 30% of Ukrainian power plants had been destroyed since Russia launched the first wave of targeted strikes on October 10.

Russia announces 2 dead in border town

In a separate development, Russian officials said a shelling of a border town a few miles north of the Ukrainian border killed two people and injured 12.

Andrey Ikonnikov, health minister for Russia’s southern Belgorod region, said a 14-year-old boy and an older man died at the scene after shells hit civilian infrastructure in Shebekino, home to around 44 500 people.

Earlier social media posts by regional governor Vladislav Gladkov blamed the attack on Ukraine. Russia has previously accused Ukrainian forces of numerous strikes against civilians in the border regions of Belgorod and Kursk. Kyiv has not formally responded to these accusations.

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