Russian authorities are advising civilians to leave the Ukrainian region

Kyiv, Ukraine >> Russian-installed authorities in Ukraine ordered all residents of the city of Kherson to leave “immediately” on Saturday before Ukrainian troops launch a counter-offensive to retake one of the first urban areas left by Russia after invading the country took .

In a post on Telegram news service, the pro-Kremlin regional administration urged civilians to use boat crossings across a major river to advance deeper into Russian-held territory, citing a tense situation at the front lines and the threat of shelling and alleged Plans for “terrorist attacks” of Kyiv.

Cherson has been in Russian hands since the beginning of the nearly 8-month war in Ukraine. The city is the capital of a region of the same name, one of four that Russian President Vladimir Putin illegally annexed last month and placed under Russian martial law on Thursday.

On Friday, Ukrainian forces bombed Russian positions across the province, targeting pro-Kremlin forces’ supply routes across the Dnieper River and preparing for a final push to retake the city.

The Ukrainian military has recaptured large areas in the north of the region since launching a counter-offensive in late August. She reported new successes on Saturday, saying Russian troops had been forced to withdraw from the villages of Charivne and Chkalove in Beryslav district.

It was reported that officials deployed by Russia were desperately trying to turn the city of Kherson – a key target for both sides because of its key industries and ports – into a fortress while attempting to relocate tens of thousands of residents.

According to the Ukrainian Army General Staff, the Kremlin sent up to 2,000 conscripts to the surrounding region to help offset losses and bolster front-line units.

The wide Dnieper River plays a major role in the fighting, making it difficult for Russia to resupply its troops in defense of the city of Kherson and surrounding areas on the west bank after relentless Ukrainian strikes rendered the main crossings unusable.

Control of Kherson has allowed Russia to resume fresh water supplies from the Dnieper to Crimea, which were cut off by Ukraine after Moscow annexed the Black Sea peninsula. A large hydroelectric power station upstream from the city of Kherson is an important source of energy for the southern region. Ukraine and Russia accused each other of trying to blow it up to flood the mostly flat region.

Cherson’s Kremlin-backed authorities earlier announced plans to evacuate all Russian-appointed officials and up to 60,000 civilians across the river in what local leader Vladimir Saldo said would be an “organized, phased displacement.”

Another official deployed by Russia on Saturday estimated that around 25,000 people from across the region had made their way across the Dnieper. In a Telegram post, Kirill Stremousov claimed civilians were willingly relocating.

“People are active because today is about life. We don’t drag anyone anywhere,” he said, adding that some residents may be waiting for the Ukrainian army to retake the city.

Ukrainian and western officials have expressed concern about possible forced displacement of residents to Russia or Russian-occupied territory.

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

Elsewhere in the occupied country, power outages and regular gunfire woke up hundreds of thousands of people in central and western Ukraine on Saturday. In its recent war tactics, Russia has intensified strikes against power plants, water supply systems and other vital infrastructure across the country.

Ukraine’s Air Force said in a statement on Saturday that Russia had launched “a massive missile attack” on “critical infrastructure,” adding that it shot down 18 cruise missiles out of 33 launched from the air and sea.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy later said that Russia had fired 36 rockets, most of which were shot down.

“These treacherous strikes on critically important facilities are characteristic terrorist tactics,” said Zelenskyy. “The world can and must stop this terror.”

Air raid sirens wailed twice over Ukraine until early afternoon, sending residents to shelters while Ukrainian air defenses attempted to shoot down explosive drones and incoming missiles.

“Several rockets” aimed at the Ukrainian capital were launched on Saturday morning, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on the Telegram news service.

The President’s Office said in its morning update that five suicide drones were shot down in the central Cherkassy region, southeast of Kyiv. Similar reports came from the governors of six western and central provinces and the southern Black Sea region of Odessa.

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

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

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential office, told Telegram that nearly 1.4 million homes lost electricity as a result of the strikes. He said about 672,000 households in the western Khmelnytskyi region were affected and another 242,000 in the Cherkassy region were affected by power outages.

Most of the western town of Khmelnytskyi, which straddles the Bug River and had a pre-war population of 275,000, went without power shortly after local media reported several loud explosions.

In a social media post on Saturday, the city council urged residents to save water “if it is also used within an hour”.

The mayor of Lutsk, a city of 215,000 in far western Ukraine, made a similar appeal, saying the city’s power supply was partially shut off after Russian missiles slammed into local power plants and irreparably damaged a power plant.

The central city of Uman, a major pilgrimage center for Hasidic Jews before the war with a population of about 100,000, was also plunged into darkness after a missile struck a nearby power plant.

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

In a Facebook post on Saturday, the company accused Russia of attacking “energy facilities within the main grids of Ukraine’s western regions.” The extent of the destruction has been claimed to be comparable to the aftermath of Moscow’s first coordinated attack on Ukraine’s power grid earlier this month.

Both Ukrenergo and Kyiv officials have urged Ukrainians to save energy. Earlier this week, Zelenskyy urged consumers to limit their electricity use between the hours of 7 a.m. and 11 a.m. and refrain from using energy-guzzling appliances such as electric heaters.

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

In another development, Russian officials said two people were killed and 12 others injured by Ukrainian shelling of the town of Shebekino in the Belgorod region, near the border.

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