Ukrainian servicemen fire a Polish 155mm self-propelled tracked gun-howitzer in the Donetsk region on October 19, 2022
Kyiv (Ukraine) (AFP) - Ukraine on Wednesday accused Moscow of orchestrating a “mass deportation” of civilians from the occupied region of Kherson where evacuations have begun in the face of advances by Kyiv.
As Putin imposed martial law in four areas recently annexed by the Kremlin, Russia rained down missiles and munitions on all corners of Ukraine, including Kyiv and the country’s west, which was spared the brunt of the onslaught earlier in the conflict.
Ukraine said it had downed “several Russian rockets” over Kyiv in the third consecutive day of attacks on the capital, with President Volodymyr Zelensky telling Ukrainians in his evening address that 10 Iranian-made drones aimed at the city were destroyed Wednesday.
- Creating ‘panic’ -
A Ukrainian representative called the push by Russia to evacuate Kherson the “equivalent of deportation”. The city has been in Moscow’s hands since the earliest days of the invasion.
Putin’s “aim is to create a kind of panic in Kherson and an image (to fuel) propaganda,” Sergiy Khlan said, adding that Ukrainian forces were still pushing their counter-offensive southward.
He said the Russians were using the evacuations as a pretext to justify “their withdrawal from Kherson and more generally from the right bank” of the Dnieper river.
Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, criticized Moscow’s move as criminal.
“Putin’s martial law in the annexed regions of Ukraine is preparation for the mass deportation of the Ukrainian population to depressed areas of Russia in order to change the ethnic composition of the occupied territory,” Danilov said.
Pro-Russian officials in the town of Oleshky across the Dnieper river said residents from Kherson city were already arriving.
Ukrainian forces have targeted bridges across the river to disrupt supply lines
Russia’s Rossiya 24 TV showed images of people waiting to board ferries, unable to use bridges damaged by Ukraine.
Vladimir Saldo, the Kherson region’s Moscow-installed head, told Russian state television that the city’s administration would relocate east of the Dnieper.
- Sakharov Prize -
With developments on the ground gathering pace, Putin’s introduction of military rule in the Moscow-controlled territories also gives additional power to authorities in southern Russian regions bordering Ukraine to quash dissent.
“We are working on solving very complex large-scale tasks to ensure security and protect the future of Russia,” Putin said.
Local officials said they were planning to move up to 60,000 civilians from Kherson over roughly six days.
Pro-Kremlin officials have begun pulling out of the southern Ukraine city of Kherson, shown here on May 20, 2022
Separately, the secretary of Russia’s National Security Council Nikolay Patrushev said around five million people from Russian-held parts of Ukraine had “found shelter” in Russia.
Ukraine’s resilience has won plaudits internationally and the European Parliament on Wednesday awarded the annual Sakharov Prize for human rights to “brave” Ukrainians.
Zelensky tweeted in response: “Ukrainians prove dedication to the values of freedom, democracy every day on the battlefield.”
Meanwhile in parts of Ukraine recently re-captured from Russian forces, repairs were underway before the onset of winter, many residents still depending on humanitarian aid.
“Apart from this, nothing is working,” said Ivan Zakharchenko, a 70-year-old resident of Izyum queueing for aid in the square where Zelensky celebrated the town’s liberation just over a month ago.
- Nuclear plant staff detained -
Map showing Russian strikes in Ukraine
Ukraine has re-captured occupied eastern territory in recent weeks. Its advance in the south, while far slower, has been gaining momentum.
There have been some advances on the Russian side too, with Moscow reporting Tuesday its troops had retaken territory in eastern Kharkiv region.
Russia’s Wagner mercenary group said it was working on building a “multi-level and layered defence” in the Lugansk region.
Russian forces meanwhile continue to occupy the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.
Petro Kotin, head of Ukraine’s nuclear energy agency Energoatom, told AFP Wednesday that Russian forces were currently holding about 50 plant employees.
- EU to sanction Iran -
Russia’s strikes following Ukrainian battlefield gains have demolished large parts of Ukraine’s power grid ahead of winter.
The government has warned of the risk of blackouts, saying about 30 percent of Ukraine’s power stations have been destroyed. And Zelensky said there would be electricity restrictions from Thursday.
After strikes Monday and Tuesday, multiple explosions were heard in central Kyiv on Wednesday, with Mayor Vitali Klitschko saying several Russian rockets had been shot down.
Kyiv and Western allies have accused Moscow of using Iranian-made drones, with Ukraine saying it has successfully shot down 233 of them since mid-September.
The Kremlin and Iran have denied this, but EU foreign policy spokeswoman Nabila Massrali said the EU had “sufficient evidence” and would prepare fresh sanctions on Iran.
With air attacks increasing as cold weather neared, Zelensky said his government was bracing for more Russian attacks.
“We assume that Russian terror will be directed at energy facilities until, with the help of partners, we ensure the ability to shoot down 100 percent of enemy missiles and drones,” he said.