Russia has expelled civilians from Kherson in recent days pending a Ukrainian attack to retake the city, the only regional capital Moscow has taken since the invasion in February.
Kherson, with a pre-war population of nearly 300,000, has been left cold and dark after power and water in the area were cut for the past 48 hours, both sides said.
Russian-installed officials blamed Ukrainian “sabotage” and said they were working to restore electricity. Ukrainian officials said the Russians had dismantled 1.5 km of power lines and electricity was unlikely to return until Ukrainian forces recapture the area.
Kiev has described the evacuation of the area as a forced deportation, a war crime. Moscow says it is sending residents away for safety.
The city is located in the only pocket of Russian-occupied territory on the western bank of the Dnipro River that bisects Ukraine. Retaking it has been the main focus of Ukraine’s counter-offensive in the south, which has been gaining momentum since early October.
The situation in Kherson could not be independently confirmed. Ukrainian troops on the nearby frontline have told Reuters in recent days that they expect a bitter fight against Russian forces, who cannot hold the city but are determined to collect a blood prize before being forced out of the country.
“As Kherson residents are forcibly deported from their homes, talking about ‘evacuation,’ RU military and FSB officers are doing what they love most: robbing their homes,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted Monday. of those they came to ‘protect’ – the best illustration of the ‘Russian world’.”
The Ukrainian army said in a nightly update that Russian troops, “disguised in civilian clothes, are occupying civilian buildings and fortifying positions inside to conduct street battles”. It also said Russian journalists were preparing videos accusing Ukraine of injuring civilians.
Reuters asked Russian authorities for comment on the Ukrainian allegations.
Moscow has sent thousands of troops to reinforce the area in recent months, but has hinted in recent days that it could withdraw. The deputy head of the Russian-installed government, Kirill Stremousov, said last week that Russia would likely withdraw across the river, although there was silence from its higher echelons in Moscow.
Quiet for Monday
Elsewhere in Ukraine, Monday morning passed without a major salvo of Russian missiles, a rare relatively calm start to the working week that had become synonymous with renewed Russian airstrikes across Ukraine over the past month.
Russia has rained down missiles on Ukrainian civilian infrastructure targets, recognizing its aim to destroy Ukraine’s energy system, with intense strikes often taking place during the Monday morning rush hour since October 10.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had warned Ukrainians overnight to be prepared for more strikes.
Ukraine’s grid operator told consumers on Monday to brace for more power cuts in Kiev and other regions as it tries to ease pressure on energy infrastructure damaged by Russian missiles and drone strikes.
Continuous blackouts are becoming routine in the capital of 3 million people after the spate of Russian attacks on power plants that damaged 40% of its energy infrastructure in the past month.
“The country’s electricity grid is still unable to function fully after the Russian terrorist attacks. In some regions we have to implement blackouts to avoid overloading the high-voltage infrastructure,” said the Ukrenergo grid operator.
Scheduled closures from 06:00 local time until the end of the day would affect Kiev and the Chernihiv, Cherkasy, Zhytomyr, Sumy, Kharkov and Poltava regions.
Zelenskyy said in his nightly video speech that more than 4.5 million consumers were without power.
Both the White House and the Kremlin declined to comment on a report in the Wall Street Journal that US national security adviser Jake Sullivan had held talks with aides to Russian President Vladimir. Putinwith the aim of reducing the risk of the war in Ukraine turning into or escalating into a nuclear conflict.
The Wall Street Journal report followed a report in the Washington Post that US officials had personally encouraged Kiev to be willing to negotiate with Russia to maintain international support.
Zelenskiy has ruled that Ukraine cannot negotiate with Russia as long as Putin is president after Putin announced the annexation of Ukrainian territory in late September. Moscow blames Ukraine for the lack of peace talks, but also says it will not negotiate its claims over annexed Ukrainian lands.