Kyiv, Ukraine (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin doubled down on Wednesday over a faltering invasion Ukraine has declared martial law in four illegally annexed regions and prepared for harsh new restrictions and crackdowns inside Russia.
Putin’s drastic efforts to tighten control over Ukraine and the Russians have been accompanied by a series of embarrassing setbacks: battlefield fiasco, sabotage and trouble mobilizing his troops.
Martial law overshadowed an attempt by the Kremlin to portray life in annexed regions as returning to normal.The reality is that civilian leaders have been replaced by military authorities in the southern city of Kherson, and a mass evacuation of the city is underway as a Ukrainian counteroffensive Keep grinding.
Kherson, a city of more than 250,000 people with key industries and a major port, is a crucial time for Ukraine and Russia heading into winter, when the front lines could be largely frozen for months. Long. It is the largest city occupied by Russia during the war that began in February. twenty four.
The trickle of evacuations from the city in recent days has turned into a flood. Local officials said Wednesday that 5,000 of the expected 60,000 were missed. Russian state television showed residents huddled on the banks of the Dnieper, many with small children, crossing east by boat — and from there deep into Russian-held territory.
In announcing martial law, which came into effect on Thursday, Putin told his council, “We are working on very difficult and large-scale tasks to ensure Russia’s security and secure future.”
The Ukrainian counteroffensive has reclaimed territory, and Putin’s forces are under increasing pressure. The Russian leader has also faltered after the destruction of a strategic bridge linking Russia and Crimea, the assassination of Kremlin officials in Kherson and his own admission of mistakes in part of the mobilization of troops .
Putin’s declaration of martial law authorizes the creation of civil defense forces; possible curfew; restrictions on travel and public gatherings; stricter scrutiny; law enforcement powers.
In an ominous move, Putin also opened the door to extending restrictive measures to Russia. This could lead to a more severe crackdown on dissent than the current dispersal of anti-war protests and the incarceration of those who make statements or provide information on fighting that differs from the official line.
The severity of the new restrictions in Russia depends on the distance from Ukraine.
Putin put the regions closest to Ukraine on medium alert, including annexed Crimea, Krasnodar, Belgorod, Bryansk, Kursk and Rostov. Local leaders are empowered to organize territorial defense, ensure public order and safety, protect transportation, communications and energy facilities, and use these resources to help meet the needs of the Russian military.
Leaders in these border areas can also conduct residential resettlement, restricting freedom of movement. Leaders in other regions were granted similar powers, depending on their alert level.
In the Kherson region, Ukrainian troops have already pushed back Russian positions on the west bank of the Dnieper. By evacuating civilians and fortifying positions in the region’s major cities (backed by rivers), the Russian army seems hopeful that the wide, deep waters will act as a natural barrier against a Ukrainian attack.
Russia has said Ukrainians travel to Russia or Russian-controlled territory is voluntary, but in many cases they have no other route and no other options.
Under martial law, authorities could force an evacuation. Ukraine’s head of state security Oleksiy Danilov said on Twitter that Putin’s statement was a “preparation for the mass expulsion of the Ukrainian population into depressed regions of Russia in order to change the ethnic composition of the occupied territories”.
Reports of forced deportations have been circulating for months, an Associated Press investigation Russian officials were found to have deported thousands of Ukrainian children to grow up like Russians.
Ukraine’s foreign ministry said Putin’s decree was illegal, saying it was part of his efforts to “deprive the inhabitants of Ukraine’s temporarily occupied territories and even basic human rights.”
Russian authorities have exaggerated fears of an attack in Kherson, seemingly to persuade residents to leave. Text messages warned residents not to fear shelling, according to Russian state media.
One resident contacted by phone described military vehicles leaving the city, Moscow authorities scrambling to load documents onto trucks, and thousands of people waiting in line for ferries and buses.
“It looked more like a panic than an organised evacuation. People were buying the last remaining groceries at the grocery store and running to the port of Kherson, where there were already thousands of people waiting,” Resident Constantine said. For his safety, the Associated Press withheld his last name at his request.
“People are terrified of explosions, missiles and possible blockades of cities,” he added.
Leaflets told evacuees they could take two large suitcases, medicine and food for a few days.
Andrei Yermak, head of Ukraine’s presidential office, called the withdrawal “a propaganda show” and said Russia’s claim that the Kyiv army might shell Kherson was “a rather primitive tactic, since the armed forces do not fire on the Ukrainian city” .
Ole Zhdanov, a Ukrainian military analyst, said the operation could herald Russia’s new Ukrainian commander with “the most severe” tactics. Sergey Surovkin.
“They are going to wipe the city off the face of the earth, but not give it back to the Ukrainians,” Zhdanov said in an interview.
In a rare acknowledgment of the pressure being exerted by the Kyiv army, Surowykin described the situation in Kherson as “very difficult”. Russian bloggers interpreted the comments as a warning of a possible Kremlin withdrawal. Surovikin claims that Ukrainian forces are planning to destroy a hydroelectric facility that local officials say will flood parts of Kherson.
Unable to control all of the territory it occupied, and battling loss of manpower and equipment, Russia intensified its aerial bombardment, conducting scorched-earth operations targeting Ukraine’s power plants and other critical infrastructure. Russia has also increased its use of weaponized Iranian drones against apartment buildings and other civilian targets.
Russia fired multiple missiles over Ukraine on Wednesday. Ukrainian authorities said they shot down four cruise missiles and ten Iranian drones. Energy installations in Vinnitsa and Ivano-Frankivsk regions were attacked.
Air raid sirens sounded in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, and many people took refuge in subway stations. Mayor Vitali Klitschko announced that the city will begin on Thursday with seasonal district heating at below-normal temperatures to save energy.
Ukrainian energy official Oleksandr Kharchenko reported on Wednesday that 40 percent of the country’s power system was severely damaged. Authorities warned all residents to reduce consumption and said power supply would be reduced on Thursday to prevent blackouts. One area that was reported to have had power and water outages due to nighttime shelling was Enerhodar. The southern city is adjacent to the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant, one of the most worrying flashpoints of the war.
The regional governor reported that the missile severely damaged an energy facility near Zelensky’s hometown of Kriverich in south-central Ukraine, cutting power to villages, towns and an urban area.
Karmanau reported from Tallinn, Estonia.
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