Ukrainian forces push toward Kherson, Kyiv orders electricity curbs

  • Nationwide restrictions initially limited to one day
  • New damage to critical infrastructure, says Zelenskyj
  • The battle for the southern city of Cherson is looming

Oct 20 (Reuters) – Ukraine’s military tightened the noose around Russian forces occupying the southern city of Kherson on Thursday as the government ordered a nationwide curb on electricity consumption over Russian missile and drone attacks on power plants.

In Kherson, the only regional capital that Russian forces have captured since invading eight months ago, the Russian-appointed government began evacuating a town that controls the only land route to the Crimea peninsula, which Russia captured in 2014, and its estuary river Dnipro.

On Wednesday, Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the Russian-backed Kherson administration, wrote on Telegram that Ukraine had launched an offensive against Novaya Kamianka and Berislav in the Kherson region.

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While Ukraine remained silent about its operations, its military said in an update on the Kherson region early Thursday that 43 Russian soldiers were killed and six tanks and other equipment destroyed.

Reuters was unable to verify battlefield reports.

Footage of people fleeing in boats across the Dnipro River was broadcast by Russian state television, which portrayed the exodus as an attempt to evacuate civilians before it became a combat zone.

About 50,000 to 60,000 people would be withdrawn over the next six days, Vladimir Saldo, the Russian-installed chief of Kherson, said, while claiming Russia has the resources to hold the city and even mount a counterattack if necessary.

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As Ukraine gained ground on the front lines, it reckoned with the cost of long-range Russian attacks deep into its territory.

On Thursday, the government cut power consumption across the country for the first time since the Russian invasion, following a spate of attacks on power plants just before the onset of winter.

Electricity will be curtailed between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m., government officials and grid operator Ukrenergo said, and temporary blackouts are possible if people don’t minimize their power consumption, an aide to the president said.

“We do not rule out that we will ask for your help more often with the onset of cold,” said Ukrenergo with a view to the restriction limited to Thursday.

Russia has intensified its missile and drone attacks on Ukraine’s power and water infrastructure in recent days.

“There is new damage to critical infrastructure. Three power plants were destroyed by the enemy today,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his video address on Wednesday evening.

“We anticipate that Russian terror will be directed at power plants until, with the help of partners, we are able to shoot down 100 percent of enemy missiles and drones,” said Zelensky, who said earlier in the week a third power plant is in place been hit by Russian air raids.

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Zelenskyj was scheduled to speak at an EU summit on Thursday. The leaders of the 27 member states will discuss options for increased support to Ukraine, including energy equipment, help to restore electricity and long-term financing for reconstruction.

DRONE STRIKES, GRAIN TALKS

Reuters witnesses said five drones struck the southern city of Mykolayiv on Thursday, but it was unclear where they exploded or how much damage was done.

Ukraine has accused Russia of using Iranian-made Shahed-136 “kamikaze” drones that fly in and detonate. Iran denies supplying them and the Kremlin has denied using them.

The United States, Britain and France have raised the issue of Iran’s alleged transfer of drones to Russia at a UN Security Council meeting, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

Russia’s Deputy Ambassador to the UN, Dmitry Polyanskiy, told reporters that Russia will reconsider its cooperation with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and his staff if Guterres sends experts to Ukraine to inspect downed drones that Ukraine and the West claim that they were made in Iran.

Polyanskiy said he was not optimistic about reaching an agreement in negotiations with Guterres and other UN officials to extend and expand a July 22 deal that led to the resumption of Ukraine’s Black Sea grain and fertilizer exports. The pact could expire next month.

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Meanwhile, the United States imposed fresh sanctions on Russia targeting a network accused of sourcing military and dual-use technology from US manufacturers for Russian users.

ON THE EAST FRONT

In eastern Ukraine, which borders Russia, Moscow forces focused their main attempt to advance on the towns of Bakhmut and Avdiivka, the Ukrainian military said.

Bakhmut is at the center of Russia’s slow advance through the Donetsk region. Armed forces trained tank and artillery fire on at least 10 towns in the region, including Bakhmut, Soledar and Bilohorivka, the Ukrainian military said.

Calling for an all-Russian war effort, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday declared martial law in areas of Ukraine occupied by his forces.

Zelenskyy warned Ukrainians in the occupied territories against Russian attempts to draft them into the army and said they should try to leave.

“If you cannot do this and find yourself in Russian military structures, try to lay down your arms and get to Ukrainian positions at the first opportunity,” he said.

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Reporting by Reuters bureaus; writing by Grant McCool, Lincoln Feast and Simon Cameron-Moore; Edited by Rosalba O’Brien and Stephen Coates

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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