KIEV, Ukraine — Russian forces are stepping up their efforts to make life unbearable for civilians in the occupied southern Kherson region, where power was cut overnight Sunday and Ukrainian officials warned that Russian troops were laying mines on critical infrastructure even as they dug in to fight. their last bridge west of the Dnieper River.
The battle for the city of Kherson, the only regional capital Moscow has captured since the invasion in late February, has been months in the making. A Ukrainian counteroffensive launched in late August has retaken more than 100 towns and villages and steadily closed in on Kherson, while shelling Russian supply lines, command centers and ammunition depots far from the frontline.
As Ukrainian forces advanced, Kremlin-appointed authorities for Kherson last month ordered the “evacuation” of all civilians, a move that Ukrainian officials say was less about saving lives and more space for newly mobilized Russian troops to occupy. Since then, Russian forces have destroyed critical infrastructure, shut down essential services and looted the city, according to residents and Ukrainian officials.
Ukraine’s armed forces said in an update Monday evening that Russian forces are “taking measures to artificially create unacceptable living conditions for local residents by cutting off electricity and communications.”
Petro, a 30-year-old resident of the area, managed to get a message late Sunday evening, saying: “They are making a desert out of the right bank of Kherson.” Out of concern for his safety, he spoke on the condition that his last name not be used.
“Today they blew up the power poles, so we don’t have electricity, we don’t have water,” Petro added.
While Russian state media reported that Ukrainian shelling had damaged power lines, Yaroslav Yanushevich, the exiled Ukrainian head of the Kherson regional military administration, blamed Russian troops.
“It is impossible to quickly repair power transmission lines due to the lack of specialists and equipment,” he said on Sunday evening. “Besides, the Russian invaders will not allow it.”
Russian forces have also planted mines around Berislav water towers, Mr. Yanushevich said, referring to the town less than 50 miles from Kherson and north of the critical dam.
Russian forces captured the road over the barrier near the town of Nova Kakhovka in the early days of the war, and it is the main artery across the Dnieper River still under Russian control. If Ukraine regains control of the area, they could prevent thousands of Russian soldiers from fleeing.
Ukrainian forces are still facing fierce resistance as they continue fighting against Russian forces stationed about 30 miles north of the dam.
Ukrainian and Russian officials accuse each other of planning to blow up the dam. But military analysts say doing so would be logistically difficult and would not serve the military’s interests because it would cause flooding and destruction on both sides of the Dnieper.
Still, Ukraine’s nuclear regulator ordered an urgent review on Monday About the safety risks of the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant if the dam is damaged.
The High Command of Ukraine’s armed forces said on Monday that the destruction of critical infrastructure was part of a coordinated campaign to undermine its forces, and warned that Moscow had sent propagandists “to shoot videos of the alleged destruction of civilians in the city.” »
Senior government officials in Kiev have also said Moscow may be trying to create the illusion of withdrawing from Kherson to lure Ukrainian forces into fierce fighting in the city. On Monday, the Ukrainian military said it had yet to see evidence that Russian forces were planning to leave Kherson.
But Ukrainian authorities have warned that Russian forces are stepping up their hunt for people who help direct military strikes. The Russians have “stepped up raids and infiltration measures among the local population,” the National Resistance Center, a government agency supporting resistance efforts in the occupied territories, said on Monday.
The so-called filtration centers were set up by Russia to temporarily detain and screen Ukrainians and identify those who pose a threat to Russia’s occupation efforts. In July, US Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken said that the Russian authorities“forcibly deport” between 900,000 and 1.6 million citizens of Ukraine to Russian territory;
The National Resistance Center said it was aware of “dozens of detainees” being taken to camps where it said they would be interrogated and tortured. The claim cannot be independently verified.