Russia has urged people in occupied Kherson to flee for their lives ahead of an anticipated Ukrainian push to recapture the southern city.
Russian-installed officials in Ukraine’s south are trying to evacuate up to 60,000 people living on the western bank of the Dnipro River.
Because of a sharp increase in the number of people wishing to leave the city, authorities reported a shortage of vessels to ferry people across the river at one point on Sunday.
“The situation today is difficult,” Russian Education Minister Sergey Kravtsov said in a video message. “It’s vital to save your lives. It won’t be for long. You will definitely return.”
Since Tuesday, about 25,000 people have been evacuated, the Russian-installed deputy head of the region Kirill Stremousov said.
“We again recommend you to leave the city and the western bank of the Dnipro,” Stremousov said in a video message published on Telegram. “We are not going to give up Kherson.”
He also said an improvised explosive device killed one person and wounded another on Sunday.
‘Kherson will hold out’
More Kherson residents packed their belongings and got onto boats or repurposed school buses to leave the city.
“Of course we are afraid for our lives,” said Vera, 44, who did not give her last name. “But I think everything will be okay. Kherson will hold out.”
Ukrainian and Western officials have expressed concern about potential forced transfers of residents to Russia or Russian-occupied territory.
Kyiv urged Kherson residents to resist attempts to relocate them. One local official alleged Moscow wants to take civilians hostage and use them as human shields.
In September, Ukraine launched its counteroffensive to reclaim northern Kherson.
The Kherson region is north of the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014. It is strategically important for Russia forces because it is a gateway for military supplies.
Russia captured the regional capital city of Kherson in the early days of the war and occupied other parts in the months following.
Ukraine’s advance in recent weeks around Kherson and in the country’s northeast have been met with intensifying Russian missile and drone attacks on civilian infrastructure, which have destroyed about 40 percent of Ukraine’s power system ahead of winter.
With the war about to start its ninth month and winter fast approaching, the potential for misery looms.
More than one million people were without power, presidential adviser Kyrylo Tymoshenko said. An official in Kyiv said the attacks could leave Ukraine’s capital without power and heat for days or weeks.
The Institute for the Study of War, a think-tank in Washington, said on Sunday that Russia’s latest strategy of targeting power plants appeared aimed at diminishing Ukrainians’ will to fight and forcing the government in Kyiv to devote more resources to protecting civilians and energy infrastructure.
It said the effort was unlikely to damage Ukrainian morale, but would have significant economic impacts.