Kyiv, Ukraine (AP) — Russian and Ukrainian forces appeared to be preparing for a major war on Thursday in the southern strategic industrial port city of Kherson, an area that Russian President Vladimir Putin has illegally annexed and observed martial law.
Fighting and evacuations are reported in the Kherson region as Moscow tries to bring the invaded country to its knees with more missile and drone strikes on critical infrastructure.
Putin declared martial law in the Kherson, Luhansk, Donetsk and Zaporozhye regions on Wednesday in an attempt to maintain Russian authority in the annexed regions as he faced setbacks on the battlefield, troubled troop mobilization, domestic growing criticism and international sanctions.
The precarious state of illegal annexation of territory is particularly evident in the capital of the Kherson region, where Russian military officials have replaced Kremlin-appointed civilian leaders as part of martial law that took effect on Thursday to defend against a Ukrainian counteroffensive.
With a pre-war population of approximately 284,000, the city of Kherson was one of the first cities to be occupied when Russia invaded Ukraine and remains the largest city it owns today. It is a major target for both parties due to its key industries and major river port. Reports of sabotage and assassination of Russian officials have surfaced for months in what appears to be one of the most active Ukrainian resistance movements in the occupied territories.
Officials at the Russian installation have urged residents to evacuate to ensure their safety and have allowed the military to build fortifications. As of Thursday, 15,000 residents out of an estimated 60,000 had been relocated from the city and surrounding areas, officials said.
Ukrainian forces have launched 15 attacks on Russian military strongholds in the Kherson region, President Zelensky’s office said on Thursday. A spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry said Kremlin forces had repelled Ukrainian attempts to advance with tanks in the villages of Kherson, including Sukhanov, Novakamianka and Chervonyar.
Ukrainian forces launched five missile attacks on the Kakhovka dam and hydroelectric power plant, about 70 kilometers (44 miles) from the city of Kherson, Vladimir Leontyev, a Russian official in the region, said on Thursday. . If the facilities were destroyed, a vital canal that supplied water to annexed Crimea would be cut off, he said on Russian television.
Zelensky countered that the Russians had planted mines at dams and power stations and planned to blow them up in what he called a terrorist act to release 18 million cubic meters (4.8 billion gallons) of water and flood Hull. Pine and dozens of areas with hundreds of thousands of people live. He told the European Council that Russia would blame Ukraine.
None of the claims can be independently verified.
This week, Russia’s new military commander in Ukraine acknowledged the threat posed by Ukraine’s counteroffensive against Kherson, which the British Ministry of Defense explained on Thursday as “the Russian authorities are seriously considering a large-scale withdrawal of troops from the area west of the Dnieper”.
Putin sought to address another problem area on Thursday when he ordered a partial mobilization of reservists last month, which he estimates will end by the end of the month, reaching his goal of 300,000. He visited a training center in Russia’s Ryazan region to demonstrate progress in addressing training and resupply issues for the newly mobilized troops. Russian television showed him lying under a net in a field, wearing goggles and ear protectors, and shooting with a rifle. An officer shows Putin and Defense Minister Shoigu with soldiers in bulletproof vests and helmets, armed with weapons. The officer showed off winter boots, clothes, cookware and other supplies — all in an effort to counter images posted by Russians on social media of worn-out or non-existent equipment for the newly mobilized troops.
In another sign of Russian mobilization faltering, Ukrainian authorities said more than 3,000 Russians had called a hotline for soldiers who did not want to fight and demanded surrender.
In other developments:
– Russian troops attacked Ukrainian positions near the village of Bilokhorivka in the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine. In the neighbouring Donetsk region, fighting raged near the city of Bakhmut. Kremlin-backed separatists have controlled parts of both regions for 8.5 years.
– Russia continues to attack energy infrastructure, deploys drones And missiles were fired into eight districts, prompting authorities to ask residents to reduce energy consumption and dim city street lights between 7:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. They warned of rolling blackouts to continue Friday. In Kryvyi Rih, a Russian strike damaged a power plant and another energy facility, cutting power to some 600,000 residents of the central Ukrainian city. Kryvyi Rih owns metallurgical plants that are vital to the Ukrainian economy. Governor Valentin Reznichenko said the city suffered severe damage.
— Ukrainian authorities said missile and drone strikes sparked fires in the southern city of Mykolaiv, with four drones hitting a school. Another school in Komyshuvakha, a village in Zaporozhye, was also hit by four drone strikes.
– The Ukrainian Army General Staff reported an increased likelihood of Russian troops launching an offensive from Belarus to cut off the supply routes for Western weapons and equipment. General Staff official Oleksey Khromov said Russia was deploying aircraft and troops in Belarus.
— The White House says Iranian troops are “directly involved” in backing Russian drone strikes in Crimea, troubling evidence that Tehran is helping Russia inflict pain on Ukrainian civilians as cold weather sets in played an increasingly important role.
A leading Russian military expert has inadvertently admitted that Iran provided Russia with the weaponized drones it used in Ukraine — despite Kremlin — and Iran — claims to the contrary. Ruslan Pukhov, head of the Center for Strategic and Technical Analysis, a Moscow-based think tank, asked reporters before his TV interview not to ask him about the source of the drone because he didn’t know he was livestreaming. “We all know that they are made in Iran, but the authorities have not acknowledged that,” Pukhov said.
– EU sanctions on Thursday Iran’s Shahd Aerospace Industries, along with three Iranian armed forces generals, have undermined Ukraine’s territorial integrity by helping supply drones to Russia.
Lorne Cook in Brussels, Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Yuras Karmanau in Tallinn, Estonia and Andrew Katell in New York contributed to this report.
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