Russia’s grip on the city of Kherson has appeared increasingly fragile after a weekend in which all civilians were ordered to evacuate immediately in the face of the advancing Ukrainian counteroffensive.
The Russian administration in the occupied city has asked residents to take “documents, money, valuables and clothes” due to “the tense situation at the front” and reported on Sunday that there had “a sharp increase” in the number of civilians attempting to flee.
The US think tank Institute for the Study of War said the urgent appeal indicated that the occupiers “did not expect a rapid return of Russians or civilians” to the city and appeared to be trying to depopulate it to harm its “long-term social and social environment”. economic viability”.
The Ukrainian military added that Russia had evacuated veteran forces from around Kherson, the only town on the west bank of the Dnipro River captured by invaders since the start of the war more than seven months ago.
Vladyslav Nazarov, a spokesman for Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command, said in an update that Russian officers were “moved to the left bank of the Dnipro, leaving newly mobilized units on the right”, referring to the west bank where the city is located.
Russia’s position in Kherson looked vulnerable for weeks, but at one point the Kremlin seemed keen to fight for the city, the only provincial capital its forces captured during the war, and stationed 20,000 soldiers inside and around her.
But Ukrainian successes on the northern part of the front line in September, including the recapture of Izium, appear to have persuaded the Russians that they can no longer maintain forces west of the Dnipro because their position is too stretched overall. .
Russian authorities in Kherson also said one man was killed and three injured after an explosion. Emergency services said an improvised explosive device had detonated near a car in the town.
There are also fears that Russia could blow up a large hydroelectric dam at Nova Kakhovka, upstream from Kherson, which holds 18 million cubic meters of water. On Friday, Ukrainian defense intelligence warned that the dam had been mined and two trucks full of explosives had been placed atop its 30-meter-high walls.
“Russian forces are likely preparing to destroy the dam,” the Institute for War Studies said, with the aim “of flooding and widening the Dnipro River to delay any Ukrainian advances.” Blowing up the dam would risk destroying the homes of people living downstream, affecting energy supplies and having a significant ecological impact.
Russian authorities have said they are taking steps to reduce the volume of water behind the dam to minimize damage, the think tank added, although they say they are doing so because they fear that Ukrainian forces do not blow up the dam.
Further concerns about Ukrainian activities were raised by senior Kremlin officials on Sunday. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu spoke to his British, French and Turkish counterparts and expressed at all three meetings his fears that Ukraine is using a “dirty bomb”, a conventional weapon containing materials radioactive.
The Russian minister cited no evidence for the claim as he warned of “possible provocations” from Kyiv, and there is no evidence that Ukraine, which gave up its nuclear weapons in the years 1990, has radioactive materials in its military arsenal.
The UK Ministry of Defense said in a statement: “Shoigu has alleged that Ukraine is planning actions facilitated by Western countries, including the UK, to escalate the conflict in Ukraine. The Secretary of Defense refuted these claims and warned that such allegations should not be used as a pretext for further escalation.
Russian missiles also attacked the southern city of Mykolaiv overnight, with two missiles from a modified S-300 air defense system, Ukrainian authorities said. One hit a largely empty building, while a second landed in a children’s playground, but there were no casualties, according to the town’s mayor.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Sunday it had continued to launch attacks over the past 24 hours against Ukraine’s energy and military infrastructure, which had damaged or destroyed around a third of power-generating capacity. from the country.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in his nightly video address said the ‘latest mass strike’ had hit parts of western, central and southern Ukraine – and called on Ukrainians to restrict their use of energy-intensive appliances in particular.
The president said he hoped Ukraine would soon be better able to protect its power plants. “Of course, we don’t have the technical capability to shoot down 100% of Russian missiles and hit drones. I am sure that gradually we will get there, with the help of our partners,” he added.
In Kyiv, the capital’s energy supplier announced a program of scheduled power cuts aimed at stabilizing the country’s energy supply. Power outages are not expected to last “more than four hours”, the company said, but could be longer “due to the extent of damage to the power supply system”.
Other parts of the country have seen power cuts since Thursday, following two weeks of Russian missile and drone attacks. Experts have said targeting civilian infrastructure is a war crime.