Putin calls for civilians to be evacuated from Kherson – The Irish Times

President Vladimir Putin has called for the evacuation of civilians from Russian-occupied Kherson, his first acknowledgment that Ukraine’s bid to retake the city is gaining ground.

“The residents of Kherson must be taken out of the most dangerous zone [combat] operations, because the civilian population should not suffer,” Putin told a group of volunteers in Red Square on Friday. Putin has never publicly called for the evacuation of civilians, despite his subordinates asking for it for weeks. Ukraine launched a fierce counteroffensive to retake Kherson, the only regional capital Russia was able to capture nine months after its invasion of Ukraine.

The battlefield setbacks have coincided with renewed efforts to target Ukraine’s energy infrastructure just as winter approaches. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy accused Putin of resorting to “energy terror”, saying 4.5 million people were without electricity across the country.

The blackouts are the result of massive Russian missile barrages and drone attacks on Ukrainian power plants in recent weeks, which have plunged much of Kyiv and the rest of the country into nighttime darkness. Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said Friday that 450,000 residents of the capital were without power.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu admitted this week that his country’s armed forces are targeting critical infrastructure with the aim of “neutralizing military infrastructure, as well as facilities that influence the reduction of the military capability of the Ukraine”.

Also on Friday, the Pentagon announced $400 million in military aid to Ukraine, for the delivery of Hawk air defense systems and Phoenix Ghost tactical drones as well as refurbished advanced tanks to be sent from the Czech Republic. .

The supply of the Hawk system, which the United States replaced with the Patriot system in the mid-1990s, marks an upgrade over the surface-to-air Stinger missiles it has supplied until now, as the Hawk systems have a longer range.

It is also the first time that the United States has funded the sending of tanks to Ukraine since the start of the war. The United States is funding the refurbishment of 45 tanks belonging to the Czech Republic, with which the Netherlands is partnering to re-equip another 45 tanks.

In Kherson, Russia continued to lose territory to larger and better equipped Ukrainian forces, despite the annexation of the surrounding province and three other areas of southeastern Ukraine in September.

Mr Putin declared martial law in all four regions last month, giving officials additional powers, including the ability to forcibly evacuate citizens. Russian-installed officials have repeatedly called on residents to leave Kherson province west of the Dnipro River in recent weeks.

In a video released after Mr Putin’s comments, Kirill Stremousov, the region’s Russian-appointed deputy governor, said a 24-hour curfew was being introduced to “defend the city”. This “would give the military the ability to do their job without civilians.”

Shortly after, however, he deleted the video and posted another in which he assured that Kherson was under full Russian control.

The impact of repeated Russian attacks is increasingly apparent in Kyiv. Missile craters are quickly filled and broken windows condemned. But after sunset, the city plunges into an eerie darkness.

Streetlights and commercial signs remain dark, candles flicker in windows and people move through the streets with torches, their faces illuminated only by smartphone screens.

Power outages have also taken their toll on businesses, some of which were forced to close during blackouts. A large supermarket had to cancel orders during a power outage and was unable to process payments.

Sporting goods and electronics stores, however, were inundated with customers. Oleh Mrichko, manager of the Gorgany sporting goods store in Kyiv, said more people were coming “after every drone and missile attack”.

“They come to buy them,” he said, pointing to lamps and portable stoves. Customers also stocked up on down jackets, gloves, hats, torches, tarps, fast-burning fire starters, woolen socks and hand warmers.

– Additional reporting by James Politi in Washington. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2022

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