February 8, 2023

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Pro-Russian authorities tell Kherson residents to leave 'immediately'

Pro-Russian authorities tell Kherson residents to leave ‘immediately’

Pro-Russian authorities on Saturday urged residents in the southern Kherson region, which Moscow claims to have annexed, to leave the main city “immediately” in the face of Kyiv’s advancing counter-offensive.

It comes as President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia launched 36 rockets overnight in a “massive attack” on Ukraine, following reported strikes on energy infrastructure that resulted in power outages across the country.

Kyiv’s forces have been advancing along the west bank of the Dnieper river, towards the Kherson region’s eponymous main city.

The first major city to fall to Moscow’s troops, retaking it would be a key prize in Ukraine’s counter-offensive.

In recent days, Russia has been moving residents in the region — which Moscow claims to have annexed in September — in efforts described as “deportations” by Kyiv.

“Due to the tense situation on the front, the increased danger of mass shelling of the city and the threat of terrorist attacks, all civilians must immediately leave the city and cross to the left bank of the Dnieper river,” the region’s pro-Russian authorities said on social media.

A Moscow-installed official in Kherson, Kirill Stremousov, told Russian news agency Interfax on Saturday that around 25,000 people had made the crossing.

‘Afraid for our lives’

At a train station in the town of Dzhankoy in the north of Crimea, a peninsula that Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014, Kherson residents were boarding a train for southern Russia, an AFP reporter saw Friday.

“We are leaving Kherson because heavy shelling started there, we are afraid for our lives,” said Valentina Yelkina, a pensioner travelling with her daughter.

Another Kherson resident, 70-year-old Yelena Bekesheva, said she was going to Moscow.

“We didn’t immediately make the decision (to leave) but then we were invited by our friends and relatives,” she told AFP.

Meanwhile more than a million households in Ukraine were left without electricity following Russian strikes on energy facilities across the country, the deputy head of the Ukrainian presidency Kyrylo Tymoshenko said on Saturday.

Fresh Russian strikes targeted energy infrastructure in Ukraine’s west, the national operator said earlier, with officials in several regions of the war-scarred country reporting power outages.

Russians “carried out another missile attack on energy facilities of the main networks of Ukraine’s western regions”, Ukraine’s energy operator Ukrenergo said on social media.

‘A barrage of Russian missiles’

“Saturday in Ukraine starts with a barrage of Russian missiles aimed at critical civilian infrastructure,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter, urging Kyiv’s allies to hasten the delivery of air defence systems.

According to Ukraine’s air force, Moscow’s troops on Saturday fired 17 cruise missiles by aircraft from southern Russia and at least 16 Kalibr cruise missiles from ships in the Black Sea.

Ukraine’s authorities have called on residents to reduce power consumption amid the attacks with some parts of Ukraine reducing their electricity use by up to 20 percent, according to Ukrenergo.

“We see savings in different regions and on different days the level of voluntary consumption reduction ranges from five to 20 percent on average,” Ukrenergo chief Volodymyr Kudrytskyi said in written comments to AFP.

He added that while these were “significant volumes” for Ukraine’s energy system, they were not enough for regions where the infrastructure “suffered the most damage” and Ukrenergo must resort to “forced restrictions”.

Meanwhile in the Russian Belgorod region bordering Ukraine, at least two civilians were killed in strikes on Saturday, according to the local governor.

“There are two dead among civilians” following shelling on “civilian infrastructure” in the town of Shebekino governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said, adding that nearly 15,000 people were left without electricity.

Russia said in mid-October there has been a “considerable increase” of Ukrainian fire into its territory with attacks largely concentrating on Belgorod region and neighbouring Bryansk and Kursk.