- Russia strengthens security in seized regions
- Kherson is evacuated
- Ukraine considers martial law meaningless
- Ukraine to cut electricity nationwide on Thursday
KYIV/MYKOLAIV, Ukraine, Oct 19 (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered all of Russia to support the war effort in Ukraine, as Russia’s administration in Kherson prepared to evacuate the only regional capital that Moscow captured during its invasion.
Footage of people using boats to flee the strategic southern city was broadcast by Russian state television, which described the exodus on the Dnipro River as an attempt to evacuate civilians before it became a combat area.
The Russian-installed leader in Kherson – one of four Ukrainian regions claimed unilaterally by Moscow where Putin declared martial law on Wednesday – said around 50,000 to 60,000 people would be displaced in the next six days.
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“The Ukrainian side is building up forces for a full-scale offensive,” Vladimir Saldo, the official, told state television. “Where the army operates, there is no place for civilians.”
Kherson is arguably the most strategically important of the annexed regions. It controls both the only land route to the Crimean peninsula which Russia seized in 2014, and the mouth of the Dnipro, the 2,200 kilometer (1,367 mile) river that bisects Ukraine.
Personnel from the Russian-backed administration of Kherson were also moved to the eastern side of the Dnipro, Saldo said, although he said Russia had the resources to hold the city and even counterattack if necessary. . Russian forces near Kherson have been pushed back 20-30 km (13-20 miles) in recent weeks.
Eight months after being invaded, Ukraine is launching major counter-offensives to the east and south in an attempt to take as much territory as possible before winter.
Russia has stepped up its missile and drone attacks on Ukraine’s electricity and water infrastructure this week in what Ukraine and the West are calling a campaign of intimidation of civilians ahead of winter cold.
Electricity supply will be restricted nationwide between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. on Thursday, government officials and grid operator Ukrenergo said. Public lighting in cities will be limited, a presidential aide said on the Telegram messaging app, adding that if electricity consumption was not minimized, there would be temporary blackouts.
Although limited to Thursday, “we do not rule out that with the onset of cold weather, we will ask for your help even more frequently,” Ukrenergo said.
Russia has destroyed three Ukrainian energy facilities in the past 24 hours, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his video address Wednesday night.
A Russian missile hit a major thermal power plant in the western Ukrainian city of Burshtyn on Wednesday, the region’s governor announced.
Zelenskiy, who said a third of his country’s power plants had been hit by Russian strikes, discussed power plant security with senior officials.
“We are working on creating mobile power points for critical infrastructure in cities and towns,” Zelenskiy wrote on Telegram.
“We are preparing for various scenarios,” Zelenskiy said.
In televised remarks to his Security Council, Putin strengthened the powers of Russia’s regional governors and ordered the creation of a coordination council under Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin to support his “special military operation”.
He said “the whole system of state administration” must be designed to support Ukraine’s efforts.
It was unclear what the immediate impact of Putin’s declaration of martial law would be, beyond much tighter security measures in Kherson and the other three regions.
But Ukraine, which along with the West does not recognize Moscow’s so-called annexations, has derided the decision. Presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak called it a “pseudo-legalization of the looting of Ukrainians’ property”.
“It doesn’t change anything for Ukraine: we continue to liberate and disoccupy our territories,” he tweeted.
US President Joe Biden said Putin found himself in a difficult position and his only tool was to brutalize Ukrainian civilians. The US State Department said it was not surprising that Russia resorted to “desperate tactics”.
Ukrainian and Russian forces exchanged intermittent artillery fire on a section of the Kherson front in the Mykolaiv region on Wednesday, the impacts marked by billowing smoke.
Several Ukrainian soldiers said they were aware of the declaration of martial law but were not worried, despite warning a visiting Reuters reporter of the danger posed by Russian drones.
“For sure he (Putin) isn’t up to anything good. We understand that,” said Yaroslav, who declined to give his last name. “But whatever they do, we’ll fuck them anyway.”
Oleh, who also hid his surname, said Russia had in the past warned against what it claimed were escalating Ukrainian actions only to carry them out itself.
“We are just concerned about our people in the Kherson region,” he said.
Moscow denies deliberately targeting civilians, although the conflict has killed thousands, displaced millions and pulverized Ukrainian cities.
The Kremlin has placed a nuclear umbrella over regions it says it has annexed, amid nuclear threats that British Defense Chief Tony Radakin said signaled desperation.
“It’s a sign of weakness, which is precisely why the international community must remain strong and united,” Radakin said during a speech.
UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace met his US counterpart in Washington this week to discuss shared security concerns over the situation in Ukraine, a senior defense source said in response to speculation around this sudden journey.
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Additional reporting by Tom Balmforth, Max Hunder and Reuters bureaus; Written by Andrew Osborn, Philippa Fletcher and Grant McCool; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, John Stonestreet and Rosalba O’Brien
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