- Russia tightens security measures in captured areas
- Kherson was evacuated
- Ukraine calls martial law a meaningless move
- Ukraine to reduce electricity nationwide Thursday
Kyiv/Mykolaiv, Ukraine (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin ordered all of Russia to support the war effort in Ukraine on Wednesday as the Russian-appointed Kherson administration prepared to vacate the only regional capital Moscow captured during its invasion. .
Russian state television broadcast images of people using boats to flee the strategic southern city, as it filmed the mass exodus on the Dnipro River as an attempt to evacuate civilians before it became a combat zone.
The Russian-installed president of Kherson – one of four Ukrainian regions unilaterally claimed by Moscow where Putin declared martial law on Wednesday – said 50,000-60,000 people would be relocated in the next six days.
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“The Ukrainian side is mobilizing its forces to launch a large-scale attack,” official Vladimir Saldo told state television. Where the army operates, there is no place for civilians.”
Kherson is arguably the most strategically important of the annexed territories. It controls both the only land route to Crimea that Russia captured in 2014, and the estuary of the Dnipro, the 2,200-kilometre (1,367-mile) river that divides Ukraine.
Saldo said staff in the Russian-backed Kherson administration would also be moved to the eastern side of Dnipro, though he said Russia had the resources to take control of the city and even counterattack if needed. Russian forces near Kherson have retreated by 20-30 kilometers (13-20 miles) in the past few weeks.
Eight months after its invasion, Ukraine is pressing large counterattacks in the east and south to try to capture as much territory as possible before winter.
Russia intensified its missile and drone attacks on Ukraine’s energy and water infrastructure this week in what Ukraine and the West call a campaign to terrorize civilians ahead of the cold winter.
Government officials and network operator Ukrenergo said electricity supply will be restricted across the country on Thursday between 7am and 11pm. A presidential aide said on the Telegram messaging app that street lighting in cities will be limited, adding that if electricity use is not reduced, there will be temporary blackouts.
While our work is limited to Thursday, Uknergo said, “we do not rule out that with the onset of cold weather we will ask for your help more frequently.”
In his video address on Wednesday evening, Russian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Russia had destroyed three Ukrainian energy facilities in the past 24 hours.
The region’s governor said a Russian missile strike hit a major thermal power plant in the western Ukrainian city of Borshten, on Wednesday.
Zelensky, who said that a third of his country’s power plants were hit by Russian strikes, discussed security at power stations with top officials.
“We are working to create mobile power points for critical infrastructure of cities, towns and villages,” Zelensky wrote on Telegram.
“We are preparing for different scenarios,” Zelensky said.
In televised remarks to the Security Council, Putin consolidated the powers of Russia’s regional rulers and ordered the formation of a coordination council headed by Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin to support his “special military operation.”
He said that “the whole system of state administration” should be geared towards supporting Ukraine’s efforts.
The immediate impact of Putin’s declaration of martial law was not clear, beyond tighter security measures in Kherson and the other three regions.
But Ukraine, which does not recognize with the West the alleged Moscow annexation, scoffed at this move. Presidential advisor Mikhailo Podolyak described it as “false legislation to pillage Ukrainians’ property.”
“This changes nothing for Ukraine: we continue to liberate our lands and dismantle their occupation,” he wrote on Twitter.
US President Joe Biden said that Putin found himself in a difficult situation and that his only tool was to brutalize Ukrainian civilians. The US State Department said it was not surprising that Russia was resorting to “desperate tactics”.
Ukrainian and Russian forces intermittently exchanged artillery fire on part of the Kherson front in the Mykolaiv region on Wednesday, the effects marked by smoke turrets.
Several Ukrainian soldiers said they were aware of the declaration of martial law but were not concerned, although they warned a visiting Reuters reporter of the danger posed by Russian drones.
“Certainly (Putin) is not fit. We understand that,” said Yaroslav, who declined to give his last name. “But whatever they do, we’re going to screw them up anyway.”
Oleh, who has withheld his last name, said Russia had warned in the past of what it claimed were escalatory Ukrainian actions only to carry out itself.
“We are only concerned about our people in the Kherson region,” he said.
Moscow denies deliberately targeting civilians, although the conflict has killed thousands, displaced millions and devastated Ukrainian cities.
The Kremlin has placed a nuclear umbrella over the areas it says it has annexed, among the nuclear threats Britain’s Chief of Defense Staff Tony Radakin said indicated desperation.
“It is a sign of weakness, which is precisely why the international community needs to remain strong and united,” Radakin said during a speech.
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace met his US counterpart in Washington this week to discuss shared security concerns about the situation in Ukraine, a senior defense source said, responding to speculation about the surprise flight.
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Additional reporting by Tom Palmforth, Max Hunder and Reuters offices. Written by Andrew Osborne, Philippa Fletcher, and Grant McCall; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, John Stonestreet and Rosalba O’Brien
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