Kyiv, Ukraine (AP) – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday doubled down on his faltering invasion. With martial law declared in four illegally annexed regions and preparations within Russia for new restrictions and crackdowns.
Putin’s tough efforts to tighten his grip on Ukrainians and Russians follow a series of embarrassing setbacks: stinging defeats on the battlefield, sabotage and problems in rallying his forces.
The martial law order contradicts the Kremlin’s attempts to portray life in the annexed areas as returning to normal. The fact is that a military administration has replaced the civilian leaders in the southern city of Kherson, and a mass evacuation of the city is underway as a Ukrainian counterattack. grind on.
The battle of Kherson, a city of more than 250,000 people with major industries and a major port, is a pivotal moment for Ukraine and Russia en route to winter, when the front lines can largely freeze over for months. It is the largest city occupied by Russia during the war, which began on February 24.
Falling evacuations from the city in recent days have turned into a flood. On Wednesday, local officials said 5,000 had left, out of an expected 60,000. Russian state television showed footage of residents crowding the banks of the Dnieper, many with young children, to cross by boat to the east – and from there, deep into Russian-controlled territory.
Announcing the application of martial law on Thursday, Putin told his Security Council, “We are working to solve very difficult and large-scale tasks to ensure Russia’s security and secure future.”
Putin’s army is under increasing pressure from a Ukrainian counterattack that has returned territory. The Russian leader is also faltering after the sabotage of a strategically important bridge linking Russia with Crimea, the assassinations of officials installed by the Kremlin in Kherson, and the mistakes he himself admitted to the partial mobilization of troops.
Putin’s declaration of martial law allowed the creation of civil defense forces; the possibility of imposing a curfew; travel restrictions and public gatherings; More stringent control and expanded powers of law enforcement in Kherson and other annexed regions of Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhia.
In an ominous move, Putin has opened the door to extending restrictive measures across Russia as well. This could lead to a tougher crackdown on opponents than the current dispersal of anti-war protests and the imprisonment of people who make statements or provide information about the fighting that differ from the official line.
The severity of the new restrictions within Russia depends on proximity to Ukraine.
Putin has put regions near Ukraine on medium alert, including the annexation of Crimea, Krasnodar, Belgorod, Bryansk, Kursk and Rostov. Local commanders are allowed to organize territorial defense, ensure public order and safety, protect transport, communications and energy facilities, and use these resources to help meet the needs of the Russian army.
Commanders in these border areas can also carry out population resettlement operations and restrict freedom of movement. Leaders in other areas were given similar powers, depending on their level of alert.
In the Kherson region, Ukrainian forces repulsed the Russian positions on the western bank of the Dnieper River. By withdrawing civilians and fortifying positions in the region’s main city, which lies on the river, Russian forces appear to be hoping that the wide deep waters will serve as a natural barrier against the Ukrainian advance.
Russia has said the movement of Ukrainians to Russia or Russian-controlled territories is voluntary, but in many cases, they have no other way out, and they have no other choice.
Under martial law, authorities can enforce evacuations. The head of Ukraine’s National Security, Oleksiy Danilov, said on Twitter that Putin’s announcement is “a preparation for the mass deportation of the Ukrainian population to deprived regions of Russia to change the ethnic composition of the occupied territories.”
For months, reports of forced renditions and an Associated Press investigation swirled It found that Russian officials deported thousands of Ukrainian children to be raised as Russians.
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said Putin’s decree was illegal, calling it part of his efforts “to deprive residents of the temporarily occupied Ukrainian territories of basic human rights.”
The Russian authorities were fussed about their fears of an attack on Kherson, apparently to persuade the residents to leave. Russian state media reported that text messages were warning residents to expect bombing.
A resident contacted by phone described military vehicles leaving the city, authorities set up by Moscow rushing to load documents onto trucks, and thousands of people lining up on ferries and buses.
It looks more like a panic than an organized evacuation. One of the residents, Constantine, said that people are buying the last remaining groceries at groceries and heading to the port of the Kherson River, where thousands of people are already waiting. The Associated Press is withholding his family name, he requested, for his safety.
“People are afraid to talk about explosions, missiles and a possible siege of the city,” he added.
The leaflets told evacuees they could take two large bags, medicine and food for a few days.
Andrey Yermak, the head of Ukraine’s presidential office, called the evacuation a “propaganda show” and said Russia’s claims that Kyiv’s forces might bomb Kherson were “a rather primitive tactic, given that the armed forces do not shoot at Ukrainian cities.”
Ukrainian military analyst Ole Zhdanov said the operation could portend heavy fighting and “the toughest” tactics from Russia’s new commander for Ukraine, General Sergei Surovkin.
“They are ready to wipe the city off the face of the earth, but not give it back to the Ukrainians,” Zhdanov said in an interview.
In a rare acknowledgment of the pressure exerted by Kyiv’s forces, Surovkin described Kherson’s situation as “extremely difficult”. Russian bloggers interpreted the comments as a warning of a possible Kremlin withdrawal. Surovkin claimed that Ukrainian forces were planning to destroy a hydroelectric facility that local officials said would submerge part of Kherson.
Unable to control all the territory it captured and struggling with manpower and equipment losses, Russia escalated its aerial bombardment, with a scorched earth campaign targeting Ukrainian power plants and other key infrastructure. Russia has also increased its use of Iranian drones to strike residential buildings and other civilian targets.
Russia launched several missiles over Ukraine on Wednesday. Ukrainian authorities said they shot down four cruise missiles and 10 Iranian drones. Power facilities were struck in the Vinnitsa and Ivano-Frankivsk regions.
Air raid sirens sounded in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, sending many people to metro stations in search of shelter. Mayor Vitali Klitschko announced that the city will begin seasonal central heating Thursday at lower-than-normal temperatures to conserve energy.
Ukraine’s energy official, Oleksandr Kharchenko, reported Wednesday that 40% of the country’s electrical system has been severely damaged. The authorities warned all residents to reduce consumption and said electricity would be reduced on Thursday to prevent blackouts. Inerhodar district was one of the areas where electricity and water cuts were reported due to the night bombardment. The southern city is located next to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which is one of the most alarming flashpoints of the war.
The district governor reported that the missiles severely damaged a power facility near Zelensky’s hometown, the city of Kryvyi Rih in south-central Ukraine, cutting off electricity to villages, towns and one city district.
Karmanau reported from Tallinn, Estonia.
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