Ukraine will help Kherson residents leave before winter
By Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Ben Shpigel
As winter approaches, Ukraine’s government is planning to help residents leave the recaptured southern city of Kherson, where Russian soldiers blew up and tore down critical infrastructure before their recent retreat, cutting off supplies of running water, heat and electricity.
Kyiv has made strenuous efforts to restore basic services since it drove Russian forces from the city earlier this month, marking one of Ukraine’s most important victories since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February. The first traces of power were restored to the city in recent days, as temperatures have begun to plunge.
Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, Iryna Vereshchuk, said that in the next few days the government would start helping residents who wished to leave, but she emphasized that residents could make their own decisions.
“Currently, we are not talking about forced evacuation. But even in the case of voluntary evacuation, the state bears responsibility for transportation. People must be taken to the place where they will spend the winter,” she said.
Vereshchuk spoke Saturday to journalists in the port city of Mykolaiv, about 40 miles to the northwest. The government would also help residents leave Mykolaiv, which is a frequent target of Russian missile strikes, after residents of both cities asked to be moved to safer areas, she said.
Before Russian forces took the city of Kherson in March, its population stood around 250,000, but thousands of civilians left during the occupation. In recent weeks, before Moscow’s forces gave up the city, the occupation government said civilians should leave to territory east of the Dnieper River and to Russia. Many of those who remain in the city are older or infirm.
In addition, Russian forces on the east bank of the river have continued to shell the city, and the area is riddled with land mines, apparently planted by Russian forces to impede Ukraine’s advance. Shelling wounded five people in the Bilozerka settlement outside the city of Kherson on Saturday, and one person was killed and another injured when a car hit a land mine on a road northeast of the city, according to Yaroslav Yanushevych, head of the Kherson regional government.
In a message on the Telegram social messaging app, Yanushevych said that “there is still a high probability of enemy attacks” in the city. “As the Russian army flees, it is beginning to fight with civilians out of desperation,” he added.
More than 7.8 million people have fled Ukraine as refugees since February, according to the United Nations refugee agency, the largest displacement of people in Europe since World War II. Millions of others have fled their homes but remained within the country.
In August, the Ukrainian government ordered civilians to leave the Donbas region in the east of the country after months of fierce fighting, although many people have remained. More recently, the government has urged Ukrainians outside the country not to return because of Russia’s continuous bombardment of the country’s power infrastructure, imperiling energy supplies as winter approaches.