Tens of thousands of residents evacuated from Kherson as battle for the Ukrainian city looms

A woman holds her child as other evacuees from Kherson gather upon their arrival at the railway station in Dzhankoi, Crimea. Credit: AP

Tens of thousands of residents have been evacuated from an area around the key city of Kherson as heavy fighting and attacks on power infrastructure intensify, Moscow-appointed authorities in southern Ukraine said on Thursday. More than 70,000 residents from the area had been moved, according to Kherson governor Vladimir Saldo, with members of the regional administration included in the evacuation.

Ukraine has been pushing ahead with an offensive to reclaim Kherson, a city, on the west bank of the Dnieper River, captured by Russian forces in the first days of the war.

A defeat in Kherson - the capital of one of the four regions Vladimir Putin tried to annex after self-described referendums - would represent a major setback for the Kremlin.

Earlier on Thursday, Putin said the world faced the most dangerous decade since World War Two, as he accused Western countries of inciting the war with Ukraine. "We are standing at a historical frontier: Ahead is probably the most dangerous, unpredictable and, at the same time, important decade since the end of World War Two," the Russian leader told the Valdai Discussion Club, a gathering of Russian specialists.

Why is Kherson so strategically important?

The wide Dnieper River figures as a major factor in the fighting, making it hard for Russia to supply its troops defending the city and nearby areas on the west bank after relentless Ukrainian strikes rendered the main crossings unusable.

Taking control of Kherson has allowed Russia to resume fresh water supplies from the Dnieper to Crimea, which were cut by Ukraine after Moscow's annexation of the Black Sea peninsula.

A big hydroelectric power plant upstream from Kherson city is a key source of energy for the southern region.

Russian troops patrol an area at the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Station, a run-of-river power plant on the Dnieper River in Kherson region. Credit: AP

His comments came as Russian forces continued to attack energy infrastructure, prompting many Ukrainians to brace themselves for the possibility of having little heating, water and electricity over the winter.

A Russian drone attack early on Thursday hit an energy facility, sparking a fire, Oleksiy Kuleba, governor of the Kyiv region, said. “The Russians are using drones and missiles to destroy Ukraine’s energy system ahead of the winter and terrorise civilians,” Mr Kuleba said in televised remarks.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy publicly thanked the country’s power workers for maintaining the electricity supply as authorities have ordered rolling blackouts in many parts of the country and urged households to limit consumption. “I thank all the workers in the energy sector: our rescuers, repair crews, officials from local government, and private companies who work diligently to maintain our energy system despite all the threats,” Mr Zelenskyy said in his nightly address late on Wednesday.

The most severe fighting in eastern Ukraine was taking place near Avdiivka, outside Donetsk, and Bakhmut, which sits on a main road leading to the Ukrainian-held cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, Mr Zelenskyy has said.

A passerby looks at a car damaged by Russian shelling in central Bakhmut. Credit: AP

In a likely response to the Russian attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure, the head of the port city of Sevastopol in the Russian-annexed region of Crimea said a power plant just outside the city had suffered minor damage in a drone attack. Mikhail Razvozhayev said a drone hit a transformer and sparked a fire but did not affect its overall operation and did not interrupt the electricity supply. Annexed by Russia in 2014, Crimea has also faced drone attacks and explosions.

In a major setback for Russia in early October, a powerful truck bomb blew up a section of a strategic bridge linking Crimea to Russia’s mainland.

Mr Strelkov called Vladimir Putin a 'nonentity'. Credit: AP

Putin rails against 'cancel culture' in anti-West speech

Putin also railed against cancel culture and perceived Western domination of the world during a long speech in Moscow.

Speaking in an annual address to the Valdai Discussion Club, he accused the West of escalating provocations around Taiwan, destabilising the world food and energy markets."

He added that so-called cancel culture "stunts the growth of free thought" and said the West should look to this, and said they "cannot simply shift the blame on the Kremlin."

He spoke, as he has done previously, about a coming multi-polar world, and added "dialogue of Russia and the West and other centres of development will become more important in the new world order."

"We tried to set up relations with the West and Nato, to make friends with them.

"The West imposes sanctions against those who don't want to be under their thumb."

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