KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian authorities have begun evacuating civilians from recently liberated parts of the Kherson and Mykolaiv regions, fearing that a lack of heat, power and water due to Russian shelling could make living conditions too difficult this winter will make. The World Health Organization agreed, warning that millions of people in Ukraine face a “life-threatening” winter.
Authorities urged residents of the two southern regions, who have been shelled by Russian forces for months, to move to safer areas in the center and west of the country. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on Monday that the government will provide transport, shelter and medical care for them, giving priority to women with children, the sick and the elderly.
Vereshchuk last month asked citizens now living abroad not to return to Ukraine for the winter to save energy. Other officials have suggested that residents of Kiev or elsewhere who have the means to leave Ukraine for a few months should do so to save energy for hospitals and other important facilities.
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 health and energy infrastructure have left hundreds of hospitals and healthcare facilities fully operational, without fuel, water and electricity.”
He warned of health risks such as respiratory and cardiovascular problems from people who try to warm themselves by burning charcoal or wood and using diesel generators and electric heaters.
The evacuations come more than a week after Ukraine recaptured the city of Kherson, on the west bank of the Dnieper River, and surrounding areas in a major battlefield gain. Since then, heading into winter, residents and authorities have come to realize how much power and other infrastructure the Russians damaged or destroyed before retreating.
Ukraine is known for its harsh winter weather and snow has already covered Kiev, the capital. and other parts of the country.
Russian troops are strengthening their defense lines along the eastern bank of the Dnieper River, fearing that Ukrainian troops will push deeper into the region. In the weeks before Ukraine’s successful counter-offensive, Russian-installed authorities relocated tens of thousands of Kherson city residents to Russian-held areas.
On Monday, Russian-installed authorities urged other residents to evacuate an area on the eastern bank of the river that Moscow now controls, citing heavy fighting in Kherson’s Kakhovskiy district.
Russia has been pounding Ukraine’s power grid and other infrastructure from the air for weeks, causing widespread blackouts and leaving millions of Ukrainians without electricity, heating and water.
According to Volodymyr Kudrytsky, head of Ukraine’s state-owned grid operator Ukrenergo, four hours or more of power outages were planned in 15 of Ukraine’s 27 regions on Monday. Ukrenergo is planning more outages on Tuesday. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says Russian missile strikes have damaged more than 50% of the country’s energy facilities.
Zelensky on Monday reiterated his calls for NATO countries and other allies to recognize Russia as a terrorist state, saying that firing on energy facilities amounted to “using a weapon of mass destruction”. Zelenskyy also again pushed for tougher sanctions against Russia and appealed for increased air defense assistance.
“The terrorist state must see that they don’t stand a chance,” he said in a video address at NATO’s 68th meeting in Madrid, after which he said the agency approved the designation as a terrorist.
Also on Monday, Zelensky and his wife appeared together in public to observe a moment of silence and place candles at a memorial in Kiev to the victims of Ukraine’s 2014 pro-European mass protests. gray skies on streets strewn with snow and ice to a wall of stone plaques bearing the names of fallen demonstrators.
Their visit coincided with new reminders on Monday of more death and destruction on Ukrainian soil.
At least four civilians have been killed and eight injured in Ukraine in the past 24 hours, deputy head of the country’s presidential office Kyrylo Tymoshenko said Monday.
A Russian missile strike in the northeastern region of Kharkiv on Sunday evening killed one person and injured two when it hit a residential building in the village of Shevchenkove, the region’s governor said.
One person was wounded in the Dnipropetrovsk region, where Russian troops shelled the city of Nikopol and surrounding areas, Governor Valentyn Reznichenko said. Nikopol is located across the river from Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.
In the eastern Donetsk region, which Moscow partially controls, Russian troops have shelled 14 towns and villages, the region’s Ukrainian governor said.
Heavy fighting took place near the Ukrainian-occupied city of Bakhmut, where 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 province’s capital, Donetsk, were without electricity on Monday after Ukrainian shelling damaged power lines. One person was killed, officials said, and 59 miners were trapped underground after power was lost to four coal mines.
In the neighboring Luhansk region, most of which is under Russian control, the Ukrainian army is advancing towards the key cities of Kreminna and Svatove, where the Russians have set up a line of defense, according to Ukraine’s Luhansk government Serhiy Haidai.
“There are successes and the Ukrainian army is progressing very slowly, but it will be much more difficult for the Russians to defend themselves after Svatove and Kreminna are (recaptured),” Haidai told Ukrainian television.
The British Ministry of Defense said retaining control of Svatove should be a political priority for Russia, but that “both Russian defensive and offensive capabilities continue to be hampered by serious shortages of ammunition and skilled personnel.”
In another development, the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency said its inspectors reported on Monday that weekend shelling of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, had not damaged any major equipment and they had not identified any nuclear safety issues.
The six reactors, all of which are closed, are stable and the integrity of spent and fresh fuel, along with stored radioactive waste, has been confirmed, the IAEA said, adding that personnel are working to repair damage to other equipment.
As they have done for months, Kiev and Moscow blamed each other for the shelling of the Russian-occupied power plant, and again the IAEA declined to comment on who was responsible.
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