Russia used drones to attack the Ukrainian capital Kyiv this week
Kyiv (Ukraine) (AFP) - Russia began evacuating civilians from Kherson in southern Ukraine on Wednesday in the face of advances by Kyiv, which said the population transfers amounted to “deportations”.
As battlefield developments continued to stretch Russia, President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday imposed sweeping new security measures in a swathe of Russian regions and declared martial law in four areas of Ukraine recently annexed by Moscow.
Moscow continued to rain down missiles and munitions on all corners of Ukraine, including Kyiv and the country’s west, which was spared the brunt of the Russian onslaught earlier in the conflict.
Ukraine said it had downed “several Russian rockets” over Kyiv in the third consecutive day of attacks on the capital.
- Creating ‘panic’ -
A Ukrainian representative in the Kherson region called the push by Russia to evacuate the city of the same name the “equivalent of deportation”. The city has been in Moscow’s hands since the earliest days of the invasion.
”(Putin’s) aim is to create a kind of panic in Kherson and an image (to fuel) propaganda,” Sergiy Khlan said Ukrainian forces were still pushing their counter-offensive southward.
He said the Russians were using the evacuations as a “pretext” to justify “their withdrawal from Kherson and more generally from the right bank” of the Dnieper river.
Pro-Russian officials in the Ukraine town of Oleshky on the other side of the river said residents from Kherson city were already arriving.
Ukrainian forces have targeted bridges across the river to disrupt supply lines
Russia’s Rossiya 24 TV showed images of people waiting to board ferries to cross the river, unable to use bridges put out of action by Ukraine.
Vladimir Saldo, the Kherson region’s Moscow-installed head, told Russian state television that the city’s administration would relocate to the eastern bank of the Dnieper.
But Khlan, the Ukrainian lawmaker, said evacuees were destined for Russia’s southern Krasnodar region.
“Russia is carrying out deportations as in Soviet times,” he said.
- Sakharov Prize -
As developments on the ground gathered pace, Putin’s introduction of military rule in the Moscow-controlled territories also gives additional power to authorities in southern Russian regions bordering Ukraine to quash dissent.
“We are working on solving very complex large-scale tasks to ensure security and protect the future of Russia,” Putin said.
Local officials said they were planning to move up to 60,000 civilians from Kherson over a period of around six days.
Pro-Kremlin officials have begun pulling out of the southern Ukraine city of Kherson, shown here on May 20, 2022
Separately, the secretary of Russia’s National Security Council Nikolay Patrushev said Wednesday that around five million people from Russian-held parts of Ukraine had “found shelter” in Russia.
Ukraine’s resilience has won plaudits around the world and the European Parliament on Wednesday awarded the annual Sakharov Prize for human rights to “brave” Ukrainians.
President Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted in response: “Ukrainians prove dedication to the values of freedom, democracy every day on the battlefield.”
In parts of Ukraine recently re-captured from Russian forces meanwhile, repairs were underway before the start of winter, many residents still depending on humanitarian aid.
“Apart from this, nothing is working,” said Ivan Zakharchenko, a 70-year-old resident of Izyum queueing for aid in the square where President Volodymyr Zelensky celebrated the town’s liberation just over a month ago.
- Nuclear plant staff detained -
Ukraine has re-captured occupied territory in the east of the country in recent weeks. Its advance in the south, while far slower, has been gaining momentum in recent days.
There have been some advances on the Russian side too.
Map showing Russian strikes in Ukraine
Moscow reported on Tuesday its troops had retaken territory in the eastern Kharkiv region. Moscow has also been building up its defences in the territory it still holds.
Russia’s Wagner mercenary group said it was working on building a fortified line of defence in Ukraine’s eastern Lugansk region.
“It is a multi-level and layered defence,” the group’s founder Yevgeny Prigozhin said on the social media of his company Concord.
Russian forces meanwhile continue to occupy the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant – Europe’s largest.
Petro Kotin, head of Ukraine’s nuclear energy agency Energoatom, told AFP on Wednesday that Russian forces were currently holding about 50 plant employees.
- EU to sanction Iran -
Russia’s missile and drone strikes in the wake of Ukrainian battlefield have demolished large parts of Ukraine’s power grid ahead of winter.
The government has warned of the risk of blackouts, saying about 30 percent of Ukraine’s power stations have been destroyed. And the presidency said there would be electricity restrictions from Thursday.
Drones bombarded Kyiv on Monday, leaving five dead.
An energy facility in the city was then hit by strikes on Tuesday, killing at least two people.
On Wednesday, several explosions were heard in the centre before Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko said “several Russian rockets” had been successfully shot down.
Kyiv and its Western allies have accused Moscow of using Iranian-made drones, with Ukraine saying it has successfully shot down 223 of them since mid-September.
The Kremlin and Iran have denied this, but EU foreign policy spokeswoman Nabila Massrali said the EU had “sufficient evidence” and would prepare fresh sanctions on Iran.