Ukraine to start evacuations in Kherson and Mykolaiv regions as winter sets in Ukraine

Ukraine is to evacuate civilians from recently liberated areas of the Kherson and Mykolaiv regions, amid fears that the damage to infrastructure caused by the war is too severe for people to endure the winter.

Residents of the two southern regions, which were shelled regularly by Russian forces in the past months, have been advised to move to safer areas in the central and western parts of the country, said Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, Iryna Vereshchuk.

The government would provide transportation, accommodation and medical care, she added.

The evacuations come just over a week after Ukraine retook the city of Kherson – which remains close to the frontline – and areas around it.

Map of recently liberated areas of Kherson and Mykolaiv in Ukraine

The liberation marked a major battlefield gain, while the evacuations highlighted the difficulties Ukraine is facing after heavy Russian shelling of its power infrastructure as winter sets in.

The war’s southern front has been the recent focus of efforts for both Russian and Ukrainian forces before Russia’s retreat from Kherson.

A member of Ukraine’s armed forces fires artillery at Russian positions near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, on Sunday. Photograph: Libkos/AP

More recently, however, Moscow appears to be building up forces and increasing its military efforts on the eastern Donbas front where the two sides have been locked in a bitter and inconclusive struggle for months, not least around the key town of Bakhmut.

With the Kremlin sending fresh reinforcements to the area, as well as troops previously deployed in the south, the Russian armed forces and the Wagner mercenary group have begun intensifying efforts to break that long and bloody stalemate, with unconfirmed reports of the use of incendiary munitions. against Ukrainian positions.

Kateryna Sliusarchuk, 71 warms her house using a
Kateryna Sliusarchuk, 71 warm her house using a Burzhuika the name of that self made welded metal stove Photograph: Alessio Mamo/The Guardian

Russia has been pounding Ukraine’s power grid and other infrastructure from the air, causing widespread blackouts and leaving millions of Ukrainians without heat, power or water as frigid cold and snow blankets the capital, Kyiv, and other cities.

Four-hour or longer power outages were expected in 15 Ukrainian regions on Monday, according to Volodymyr Kudrytskyi, the head of the state grid operator, Ukrenergo. More than 40% of Ukraine’s energy facilities were damaged by Russian missile strikes in recent weeks.

While the situation in the recently liberated areas of the south led to the announcement of evacuations, it is barely better in many other parts of the country.

The situation in Kyiv and other major cities has deteriorated drastically after the largest missile attack on the country’s power grid on Tuesday. Ukrenergo said 40% of Ukrainians were experiencing difficulties because of damage to at least 15 major energy hubs across Ukraine. Warning that electricity outages could last anywhere from several hours to several days, it added: “Resilience and courage are what we need this winter.”

Snow covers Independence Square in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Monday.
Snow covers Independence Square in Kyiv, on Monday. Photograph: Andrew Kravchenko/AP

The mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, has also stressed the need to be ready and resilient in the face of a potential blackout. “Worst-case scenario. Actually, I don’t like to talk about that, but I have to be prepared if we [do not] have electricity, blackout, no water, no heating, no services and no communication,” he said on Friday.

Ukrenergo said: “Thousands of kilometers of key high-voltage lines are not working,” affecting the entire country.

News of the evacuations came as a team from the International Atomic Energy Agency prepared to conduct an assessment of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant on Monday, a day after the head of the UN agency, Rafael Mariano Grossi, accused the war’s conflicting parties, saying: You’re playing with fire.”

“If they want to inspect a facility that has nothing to do with nuclear safety, access will be denied,” Renat Karchaa, an adviser to the chief executive of the Russian nuclear power station operator, Rosenergoatom, told the Tass news agency.

Repeated shelling of the Zaporizhzhia complex has raised concerns about a grave accident 310 miles (500km) from the site of the world’s worst nuclear power plant accident, at Chernobyl in 1986.

A view of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in October.
A view of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in October. Photograph: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

The Zaporizhzhia plant provided about a fifth of Ukraine’s electricity before Russia’s invasion, and has been forced to operate on backup generators a number of times. It has six Soviet-designed water-cooled and water-moderated reactors containing Uranium 235.

The reactors are shut down but there is a risk that nuclear fuel could overheat if the power driving the cooling systems is cut.

Heavy fighting continues in Kherson city, where there were a series of explosions on Monday, with one person killed and four others taken to hospital as a result of shelling, according to the deputy head of the president’s office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko.

Russia’s forces continue to strengthen defenses along the east bank of the Dnipro River and to build up additional defensive lines deep inside Russian-held territory.

“Artillery duels continue, the fight continues,” said Dmytro Pletentchuk, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian military in the area. “Kherson is now on the frontline.”

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