Ukraine on Monday accused Russia of looting empty houses in the southern city of Kherson and occupying it with troops in civilian clothes to prepare for street fighting in what both sides say will be one of the most important battles of the war.
In recent days, Russia has ordered civilians to leave Kherson pending a Ukrainian attack to retake the city, the only regional capital Moscow has taken since its invasion in February.
Kherson, with a pre-war population of nearly 300,000, has been left cold and dark after power and water were cut off to the area for the past 48 hours, both sides said.
Russian-installed officials blamed Ukrainian “sabotage” and said they were working to restore electricity. Ukrainian officials said the Russians had dismantled 1.5 kilometers of power lines and electricity was unlikely to return until Ukrainian forces recapture the area.
Kiev has described the evacuation of the area as a forced deportation, a war crime. Moscow says it is sending residents away for safety.
About 100 disabled children were transferred from a medical facility in Dnipriany in the Kherson region to the Moscow region, the Ukrainian army said. Patients from a retirement home in Kakhovka were also relocated and Russian troops are taking over those facilities, it said.
Bitter fight expected
Kherson is located in the only pocket of Russian occupied territory on the western bank of the Dnipro River that bisects Ukraine. Retaking it has been the main focus of Ukraine’s counter-offensive in the south, which has been gaining momentum since early October.
The situation in Kherson could not be independently confirmed. Ukrainian troops on the nearby frontline have told Reuters they expect a bitter fight against Russian troops determined to collect a blood prize before being forced to leave.
According to the Ukrainian army, Russian troops disguised in civilian clothes are occupying civilian buildings and fortifying their positions inside to conduct street battles.
Russian forces were “involved in looting and theft of residents and infrastructure sites and bringing equipment, food and vehicles to the Russian Federation,” it said in an update late Monday.
Moscow denies abusing civilians.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Monday that the Donetsk region in the east remains the “epicenter” of fighting, with hundreds of Russians being killed every day.
The towns of Bakhmut and Avdiivka are the focal points of the heaviest fighting in the Donetsk region.
US and Russia are reportedly in talks
On the diplomatic front, both the White House and the Kremlin declined to comment on a Wall Street Journal report that U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan held talks with aides to President Vladimir Putin, with the aim of risking an escalation of the war. shrink.
The war has wreaked havoc on the global economy and increased fears of a nuclear conflict.
“We reserve the right to speak directly at higher levels on issues affecting the United States,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said later, adding that those talks “were focused only on risk reduction.”
US support for Ukraine will be “fearless and unwavering” regardless of the outcome of Tuesday’s congressional elections, she added.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said Ukraine was ready to negotiate an end to the war with a future Russian leader, but not Putin, following a report by the Washington Post that the United States had urged Kiev to get ready. for peace talks to ensure it retains western support.
“Ukraine has never refused to negotiate. Our negotiating position is known and open,” Podolyak said on Twitter, adding that Russia must first withdraw troops from Ukraine. “Is Putin ready? Obviously not.”
Major setbacks for Moscow
Russia lost all the territory it conquered in the weeks following its invasion of northern Ukraine, and has faced major setbacks in the east and south in recent months.
Putin has responded to the losses by calling in hundreds of thousands of reservists and announcing the annexation of occupied territories. He said 50,000 newly recruited reservists were already fighting in combat units on Monday.
But as more and more troops are sent to the front and losses mount with few new signs of gain, there has been growing unrest in Russia over the course of the war.
Russia’s defense ministry took the rare step Monday to deny that an elite unit had suffered catastrophic losses in a senseless attack after Russian military bloggers posted an open letter from surviving members of the Pacific Fleet’s 155th Naval Brigade.
In the letter addressed to Oleg Kozhemyako, governor of the unit’s home region on the Pacific coast, the Marines said their unit had lost 300 killed, wounded or missing and half of their equipment in just four days.