Ukraine. Civilians must leave liberated areas this winter


KYIV, Ukraine – Ukrainian authorities have begun evacuating civilians from recently liberated areas of southern Kherson and Mykolaiv regions, fearing that Russian damage to infrastructure and lack of heat, electricity and water are too severe for people to withstand the coming winter, officials said Monday. The evacuations come as power outages grip most of the country.

Residents of the two southern regions, shelled for months by Russian forces, have been urged to move to safer areas in the center and west of the country, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

The government will provide “transportation, accommodation, medical care,” she said.

The evacuations come more than a week after Ukraine recaptured the city of Kherson, which sits on the west bank of the Dnieper, and areas around it. The liberation marked a major battlefield gain for Ukraine, but the evacuations now highlight the difficulties the country is facing following the Russian bombardment of its electricity infrastructure as freezing weather sets in.

Ukraine is known for its brutal winter and snow has already covered Kyiv, the capital and other cities.

Russia has set up defense lines along the eastern bank of the Dnieper, fearing that Ukrainian forces will push deeper into the area. In the weeks leading up to Ukraine’s successful counter-offensive, it encouraged and assisted tens of thousands of residents of the city of Kherson to evacuate to Russian-held areas.

On Monday, Russian-installed authorities in the Kherson region also urged residents to evacuate an area on the east bank of the Dnieper that Moscow now controls. Officials cited a high level of military fighting in Kakhovskiy district as they told residents to move to evacuation points.

Since Ukraine recaptured the city of Kherson just over a week ago, Russia has pounded Ukraine’s power grid and other infrastructure from the air, causing widespread blackouts and leaving millions of Ukrainians without heating, electricity or water.

To deal with power shortages, blackouts of four hours or more were scheduled for Monday in 15 of Ukraine’s 27 regions, according to Volodymyr Kudrytsky, the head of Ukraine’s public grid operator, Ukrenergo. More than 40% of the country’s energy facilities have been damaged by Russian missile strikes in recent weeks.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday called on NATO countries and allies to recognize Russia as a terrorist state, saying Russia’s shelling of energy supplies amounted to “using a weapon of mass destruction “. Zelenskyy also called for even tougher sanctions against Russia and called for more air defense aid for Ukraine.

“The terrorist state must see that it has no chance,” he told the 68th NATO Parliamentary Assembly meeting in Madrid in a video address.

On Sunday, powerful explosions of shelling shook the Ukrainian region of Zaporizhzhia, the site of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. The International Atomic Energy Agency, the world’s nuclear watchdog, called for “urgent action to help prevent a nuclear accident” at the Russian-occupied facility.

Kyiv and Moscow blamed each other for the bombings that took place after weeks of relative calm. The area has been the scene of fighting since Russian forces occupied the plant shortly after their invasion of Ukraine on February 24, raising fears of a nuclear accident.

On Monday, Russian nuclear power plant operator Rosatom admitted that there is a risk of a nuclear accident at the Zaporizhzhia plant. Rosatom chief Alexei Likhachyov said the company held talks with the IAEA overnight and again blamed Kyiv for the situation.

“Apparently Kyiv considers a small nuclear incident to be acceptable,” Likhachyov said, “Everything should be done so that no one even thinks of encroaching on the safety of the nuclear power plant.”

There was no immediate Ukrainian reaction to Likhachyov’s comments.

In fighting elsewhere, at least four civilians have been killed and eight others injured in Ukraine in the past 24 hours, the deputy head of the country’s presidential office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, said on Monday.

A Russian missile strike in the northeastern region of Kharkiv on Sunday night killed one person and injured two others, according to the governor of Kharkiv. The strike hit a residential building in the village of Shevchenkove, killing a 38-year-old woman.

One person was injured overnight in the Dnipropetrovsk region, where Russian forces shelled the town of Nikopol and its surroundings, Governor Valentyn Reznichenko said. Nikopol is across the river from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

In the eastern region of Donetsk, which is partially controlled by Moscow, Russian forces shelled 14 towns and villages, the region’s Ukrainian governor said.

Heavy fighting was taking place near the Ukrainian town of Bakhmut, where a school was damaged by shelling. In Makiivka, which is under Russian control, an oil depot was hit and caught fire, local authorities in Moscow said.

Russian-installed authorities said more than 105,000 people in the provincial capital, Donetsk, were left without power on Monday after Ukrainian shelling damaged power lines. One person was killed by the shelling, officials said, and 59 miners were trapped underground after power went out at four coal mines in the city.

In the neighboring region of Luhansk, most of which is under Russian control, the Ukrainian army is advancing towards the key towns of Kreminna and Svatove, where the Russians have set up a line of defense, according to the Ukrainian governor of Luhansk, Serhiy Haidai.

“There are successes and the Ukrainian army is advancing very slowly, but it will be much more difficult for the Russians to defend themselves after the recapture of Svatove and Kreminna,” Haidai told Ukrainian television.

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