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Russian-laden officials ordered the evacuation of Kherson

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KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – Russian authorities in Ukraine told all residents of the city of Kherson to leave “immediately” on Saturday before the expected advance of Ukrainian troops. He is conducting a counteroffensive to retake one of the first urban areas Russia took after invading the country.

In a post on the Telegram messaging service, the pro-Kremlin regional administration urged civilians to dig deeper into Russian-held territory using boat crossings over a major river, citing the tense situation at the front and the threat of bombardment and “terror attacks by Kyiv”.

Kherson has been in Russian hands since the first days of the 8-month war in Ukraine. The city is the capital of a region of the same name, one of four regions that Russian President Vladimir Putin illegally annexed last month and subjected to Russian martial law on Thursday.

On Friday, Ukrainian forces bombed Russian positions across the state are targeting pro-Kremlin forces’ supply lines on the Dnieper River and are approaching a full-blown attack on the city of Kherson. Ukraine has recaptured some villages in the north of the region since launching a counterattack in late August.

Russian-appointed officials are reportedly trying desperately to turn the city of Kherson, a primary target for both sides due to its key industries and ports, into a stronghold as they attempt to relocate tens of thousands of residents.

According to the general staff of the Ukrainian army, the Kremlin sent up to 2,000 troops to the surrounding area to replenish losses and strengthen the frontline troops.

The Dnieper River has an important place in regional warfare as it serves multiple critical functions. Provides passes for supplies, troops and civilians; drinking water for southern Ukraine and the annexed Crimean Peninsula; and electricity generation from a hydroelectric station.

Most of the area is under Russian control, including the power plant and a canal that supplies water to Crimea.

Kherson’s Kremlin-backed officials had previously announced plans to evacuate all Russian-appointed officials and as many as 60,000 civilians along the river, as local leader Volodymyr Saldo said.

Another official in Russia estimated on Saturday that around 25,000 people from all over the region crossed the Dnieper. In a Telegram post, Kirill Stremousov claimed that civilians were willingly relocated.

“People are actively moving because life is the priority today. “We’re not dragging anyone anywhere,” he said.

Ukrainian and Western officials have expressed concern about possible forced transfers of residents to Russia or to Russian-occupied territories.

Ukrainian officials have urged residents of Kherson to resist attempts to relocate them, claiming a local official is trying to take civilians hostage and use them as human shields.

Elsewhere in the occupied country, hundreds of thousands of people in central and western Ukraine were awakened Saturday by power cuts and periodic gunfire. In its latest war tactic, Russia has intensified attacks on power plants, water supply systems and other important infrastructures across the country.

The Ukrainian Air Force said on Saturday that Russia had launched a “major missile strike” targeting “critical infrastructure”, shooting down 18 of 33 air- and sea-launched cruise missiles.

In a Telegram post released later on Saturday, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy referred to 36 missiles “most of them shot down”. The reason for the discrepancy in the figures was not immediately clear.

In the early afternoon, air raid sirens sounded twice across Ukraine, and residents rushed to bunkers as Ukrainian air defenses attempted to shoot down explosive drones and incoming missiles.

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko told the Telegram messaging service that “several rockets” were hit on Saturday morning targeting the Ukrainian capital.

The presidential office said in its morning update that five suicide planes were shot down in the Cherkasy region southeast of Kiev.

The governors of the six western and central provinces, as well as the southern Odessa region on the Black Sea, gave similar reports.

Ukraine’s top diplomat said that day’s attacks proved Ukraine needed new Western-backed air defense systems “without a minute’s delay”.

“Air defense saves lives,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, vice-president of the Ukrainian presidential office, told Telegram that about 1.4 million households lost electricity as a result of the strikes. He said about 672,000 homes were affected in the western Khmelnytskyi district, and another 242,000 homes were disrupted in the Cherkasy district.

Most of the western city of Khmelnytskyi, on the Bug River, with a pre-war population of 275,000, was without power shortly after several loud explosions were reported in the local press.

In a social media post on Saturday, the city council urged local residents to store water “in case the water runs out in an hour.”

The mayor of Lutsk, a population of 215,000 in Ukraine’s far west, made a similar call on Saturday. Mayor Ihor Polishchuk said that power in Lutsk was partially cut after Russian missiles hit local energy facilities.

He later added that a civilian suffered burns and a power plant was damaged beyond repair when a shock wave from the strike hit his home.

The central city of Uman, a major pilgrimage center for Hasidic Jews with around 100,000 residents before the war, was also plunged into darkness after a rocket hit a nearby power station, regional officials said on Telegram.

Ukraine’s state energy company, Ukrenergo, responded to the strikes by announcing permanent power cuts in Kyiv and 10 Ukrainian regions to stabilize the situation.

In a Facebook post on Saturday, the company accused Russia of attacking “power facilities on the main grids in the western regions of Ukraine”. He claimed the scale of the devastation was comparable to the fallout from Moscow’s first coordinated attack on the Ukrainian power grid earlier this month.

Authorities in both Ukrenergo and Kiev urged Ukrainians to save energy. Earlier this week, Zelenskyy urged consumers to reduce their power use between 7am and 11am and to avoid using energy-consuming appliances such as electric heaters.

Zelenskyy said earlier in the week that 30% of Ukraine’s power plants have been destroyed since Russia launched its first wave of targeted infrastructure attacks on October 10.

Separately, Russian officials said two people were killed and 12 injured in a bomb attack on a border town just kilometers north of the Ukrainian border.

Andrey Ikonnikov, the health minister of Russia’s southern Belgorod region, said that a 14-year-old boy and an old man died at the scene as a result of bombs hitting the civilian infrastructure in Shebekino, where approximately 44,500 people live.

Previous social media posts by the regional governor, Vladislav Gladkov, blamed Ukraine for the attack. Russia has previously accused Ukrainian forces of carrying out multiple attacks on civilians in the Belgorod and Kursk border areas. Kyiv has not formally responded to these accusations.

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Kozlowska reported from London.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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