Ukraine to civilians: leave Liberated Areas before winter

Ukrainian authorities have begun evacuating civilians from recently liberated parts of the Kherson and Mykolaiv regions amid fears that shortages of heat, electricity and water from Russian shelling will make conditions too unlivable this winter. The World Health Organization agreed, warning millions in Ukraine could face a “life-threatening” winter.

Authorities urged residents of the two southern regions that Russian forces have been shelling for months to move to safer areas in the central and western parts of the country. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Monday that the government will provide transport, shelter and medical care for them, giving priority to women with children and the elderly.

Vereshchuk last month urged citizens living abroad not to return to Ukraine to save energy. Other officials have suggested that residents in Kyiv or elsewhere who have the means to leave Ukraine for a few months should do so so that hospitals and other essential facilities can save electricity.

The WHO on Monday issued a chilling warning about the human impact of the energy crisis on Ukraine.

“This winter will be life-threatening for millions of people in Ukraine,” said WHO Regional Director for Europe, Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge. “Attacks on healthcare and energy infrastructure mean hundreds of hospitals and healthcare facilities are unable to function properly due to a lack of fuel, water and electricity.”

He warned of health risks such as respiratory and cardiovascular problems from people trying to warm themselves by burning charcoal, wood, diesel generators and electric heaters.

The evacuations come more than a week after Ukraine retook the city of Kherson on the west bank of the Dnieper and surrounding areas in a major battlefield win. Since then, residents and authorities heading into winter are realizing just how much energy and other infrastructure the Russians destroyed before withdrawing or damaging as recently as the past week.

Ukraine is known for its brutal winter weather, and snow has already blanketed Kyiv, the capital, and other parts of the country.

Russian forces are strengthening their defense lines along the east bank of the Dnieper, fearing Ukrainian forces will advance deeper into the region. In the weeks leading up to Ukraine’s successful counteroffensive, Russian-installed authorities helped tens of thousands of residents of the city of Kherson evacuate to Russian-held areas.

On Monday, Russian-installed authorities urged other residents to evacuate an area on the east bank of the river that Moscow now controls, citing intense fighting in Kherson’s Kachovskiy district.

Russia has been bombing Ukraine’s power grid and other infrastructure from the air for weeks, causing widespread power outages and leaving millions of Ukrainians without electricity, heat and water.

According to Volodymyr Kudrytsky, head of Ukraine’s state grid operator Ukrenergo, two power outages of four hours or more each were planned on Monday in 15 of Ukraine’s 27 regions. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said more than 50% of the country’s power assets were damaged by Russian missile strikes.

Zelenskyy on Monday reiterated his calls for NATO and other allies to recognize Russia as a terrorist state, saying that shelling energy stocks is tantamount to “using a weapon of mass destruction.” Zelenskyj also called for stricter sanctions against Russia and more air defense assistance.

“The terror state must see that it has no chance,” he said in a video address to the 68th NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Madrid.

Also on Monday, Zelenskyy and his wife made a rare public appearance together to observe a minute’s silence and place candles at a Kiev memorial to the victims of Ukraine’s mass pro-European Union protests in 2014. As the bells rang for a memorial service, the first in Ukraine, the couple walked under a gray sky along streets dusted with snow and ice to a wall of stone plaques with the names of fallen protesters.

Her visit coincided with renewed memories Monday of more death and destruction on Ukrainian soil.

At least four civilians have been killed and eight others injured in Ukraine in the past 24 hours, Deputy Head of the country’s Presidential Office Kyrylo Tymoshenko said on Monday.

A Russian missile attack in the northeastern Kharkiv region on Sunday night killed one person and injured two when it hit a residential building in the village of Shevchenkove, according to the region’s governor.

One person was wounded in the Dnepropetrovsk region, where Russian troops shelled the city of Nikopol and surrounding areas, Gov. said Valentin Reznichenko. Nikopol is across the river from the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant.

In the eastern Donetsk region, partly controlled by Moscow, Russian forces have shelled 14 towns and villages, the region’s Ukrainian governor said.

Fierce fighting broke out near the Ukrainian-held town of Bakhmut, and a school was damaged. In Makiivka, which is under Russian control, an oil depot was hit and caught fire.

Russian-installed authorities said more than 105,000 people in the provincial capital Donetsk were left without power on Monday after Ukrainian power lines were shelled. One person was killed, officials said, and 59 miners were trapped underground after power was cut at four coal mines.

In the neighboring Luhansk region, which is largely under Russian control, the Ukrainian army is advancing towards the key cities of Kreminna and Svatove, where the Russians have established a line of defense, according to Ukraine’s Luhansk governor. Serhi Haidai.

“There are successes and the Ukrainian army is moving very slowly, but it will be much more difficult for the Russians to defend themselves after Svatove and Kreminna have been (recaptured),” Haidai told Ukrainian TV.

The UK Ministry of Defense said maintaining control of Svatove should be a political priority for Russia, but “both Russia’s defense and offensive capabilities remain hampered by a serious shortage of ammunition and skilled personnel”.

Shelling on Sunday shook the Zaporizhia region of Ukraine, the site of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. The International Atomic Energy Agency, the global nuclear regulator, called for “urgent action to prevent a nuclear accident” at the Russian-held facility, whose six reactors are shut down.

Kyiv and Moscow blamed each other for the shelling. The area has been the scene of fighting since Russian troops occupied the plant in late February, stoking fears of a nuclear accident.

On Monday, the Russian nuclear power plant operator Rosatom warned of the danger of a nuclear accident at the Zaporizhia power plant. Rosatom chief Alexei Likhachyov said the company had overnight talks with the IAEA, blaming Kyiv.

“Everything must be done so that nobody even thinks about interfering with the safety of the nuclear power plant,” he said.

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