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Ukraine calls for evacuations from area under Russian control

KYIV, Ukraine – Less than a month after driving Russian forces from the city of Kherson on the west bank of the Dnipro, Ukrainian authorities on Saturday issued an urgent appeal for civilians to evacuate Russian-occupied areas on the eastern bank, suggesting that the Kyiv Army might continue its offensive and attempt to gain a foothold across the waterway.

“The evacuation is necessary due to the possible escalation of hostilities in this area,” Yaroslav Yanushevych, the head of the regional military administration in Kherson, southern Ukraine, said in an announcement to residents.

It was unclear how many people would be able to cross the river on private boats and other vessels, as all major crossing points were destroyed. The public call for evacuations was also most likely intended to signal to the Russians that an assault might be coming, although Ukraine has in the past used deception to focus Russian attention in one direction while preparing for an offensive. somewhere else.

Ukrainian forces advance into winter after two large-scale offensives in the northeast and south in the fall. They are once again stepping up strikes on Russian supply routes, command centers and ammunition depots from new forward positions.

The Russian withdrawal from Kherson was both an embarrassment to the Kremlin, which had only recently declared the region part of Russia, and a strategic setback as it put the Ukrainians in a better position to threaten the lines of defense. supplying Crimea with long-range weapons. precision weapons supplied by its Western allies.

But since their retreat, the Russian forces have continued to shell the region and the city of Kherson. Local Ukrainian authorities said on Saturday that Russian troops had opened fire 28 times the day before, hitting a number of targets, including residential buildings and an oncology center. Details could not immediately be independently verified.

After crossing the Dnipro River at Kherson, Russian forces set out to fortify defensive positions about 10 to 20 miles from the eastern bank, according to Ukrainian military and satellite imagery. But the river divides Ukrainian and Russian forces along a route that stretches over 200 miles, and the Russian forces are scattered.

“Russian forces clearly do not expect to be able to prevent Ukrainian forces from crossing the river, and the Russians do not prioritize defensive positions to stop such a crossing,” the Institute for the Study of War said. a Washington-based research group. earlier this week after analyzing publicly available satellite photos of Russian defensive positions.

The ban on crossing rivers would be lifted from Saturday to Monday to facilitate evacuations, Yanushevych said, noting that only one wharf would be open. All those fleeing Russian-occupied territories must bring documents attesting to their identity and confirming their Ukrainian citizenship, he said.

Further northeast, where the river widens into a vast reservoir held back by a vital dam at Nova Kakhovka, Ukrainian officials and residents said Russia’s civil administration began leaking further east this week. is.

The Ukrainian military noted that it was seeing a decrease in the number of Russian troops in towns and villages along the river. “A minimal number of occupiers remain in the cities,” the army said last month.

The account was supported by local residents contacted by telephone in recent days.

North of the dam, speculation continued to swirl about Russian intentions at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which has been occupied by Russian forces since the start of the war and where Ukrainian intelligence estimates at least 500 troops are in garrison.

Rafael Mariano Grossi, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told a press conference in Rome on Friday that the agency was “almost there” to negotiate a deal allowing Russian troops to withdraw from plant and create a demilitarized zone around the facility, which has been the focus of frequent bombings.

“We have a proposal on the table which is simply to stop the madness of bombing Europe’s biggest nuclear power station,” he said.

Although the Kremlin rebuffed Ukrainian suggestions that its forces were preparing to leave the nuclear power plant, Alexei Likhachev, the head of Russia’s nuclear energy agency, confirmed that negotiations with the International Atomic Energy, the United Nations nuclear watchdog group, were continuing.

nytimes Gt

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