As winter approaches, the Ukrainian government plans to help residents evacuate the recaptured southern city of Kherson, where Russian soldiers blew up and demolished key infrastructure and cut off supplies of running water, heat and electricity before their recent retreat.
Kyiv has made major efforts to restore basic services since it drove Russian forces out of the city earlier this month, marking one of Ukraine’s most important victories since Russia launched its all-out invasion in February. The first traces of electricity have been restored to the city in recent days as temperatures began to drop.
Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine Iryna Vereshchuk said that the government would start helping residents who wanted to leave the country in the next few days, but stressed that residents could make their own decisions.
“At the moment we are not talking about a forced evacuation. But even in the case of a voluntary evacuation, the state is responsible for the transport. People need to be brought to the place where they will spend the winter,” she said.
Woman. Vereshchuk spoke to journalists in the port city of Mykolaiv, some 40 miles northwest, on Saturday. The government would also help residents leave Mykolaiv, which is a frequent target of Russian missile attacks, after residents of both cities asked to be moved to safer areas, she said.
Before Russian forces took the city of Kherson in March, its population was about 250,000, but thousands of civilians abandoned it during the occupation. In the last few weeks, before Moscow troops abandoned the city, the occupation government said civilians should evacuate to the area east of the Dnipro River and into Russia. Many of those who remain in the city are elderly or infirm.
In addition, Russian forces on the east bank of the river have continued to bombard the city, and the area is littered with landmines apparently laid by Russian forces to hamper Ukraine’s advance. Shelling injured five people in the settlement of Bilozerka outside the city of Kherson on Saturday, and one person was killed and another injured when a car hit a land mine on a road northeast of the city, according to Yaroslav Yanushevych, the head of the Kherson region government.
In a message on Telegram’s social messaging app, Mr Yanushevich said there was “still a high probability of enemy attacks” in the city. “As the Russian army flees, they start fighting with civilians out of desperation,” he added.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 7.8 million people have fled Ukraine as refugees since February, the largest forced displacement of people in Europe since World War II. Millions of others fled their homes but stayed in the country.
In August, the Ukrainian government ordered civilians to leave the Donbass region in the east of the country after months of fierce fighting, although many people stayed. More recently, the government has urged Ukrainians outside the country not to return, as Russia continues to bomb the country’s energy infrastructure, threatening energy supplies as winter approaches.