The Ukrainian government has begun the evacuation of Kherson due to the impossibility of guaranteeing the minimum services in the city to spend the winter. A week before withdrawing from the municipality, on November 11, Russian troops sabotaged the electricity and water supply, as well as the telephone network. Temperatures are already dropping below zero degrees and kyiv is accelerating the departure of the inhabitants of Kherson, guaranteeing that they will be able to spend the cold months in reception centers.
The evacuation is, for the moment, voluntary and focuses on asking, above all, families with minors and the elderly to leave Kherson. Some 75,000 people remain in the city, 25% of the pre-war population, the governor of the province’s military administration, Yaroslav Yanushevich, reported last week. The remaining 75% left the place during the more than eight months under Russian occupation, the vast majority, towards the western regions of Ukraine and towards the European Union.
The Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister, Irina Vereschuk, published a statement on Tuesday detailing the reception plan for the residents of Kherson: “Due to the security situation in the city and infrastructure problems, citizens can move during the winter to safer regions of the country. The Government offers free evacuation to Krivi Rih, Mikolaiv and Odessa, as well as an additional transfer to the Kirovohrad region, to the Khmelnitskii region or to the westernmost regions of Ukraine”.
In any case, the population cannot be evacuated by force, understands Olena Pavlenko, president of the Dixi Group consultancy, one of the benchmark analysis companies in the energy sector in Ukraine. Pavlenko, in statements to EL PAÍS, does not believe that Russia has the capacity to frequently attack energy infrastructure with a hundred missiles, as it did last week. For this reason, she “the chances of an absolute blackout throughout the country are few”, although she, at the same time, recalls that the infrastructures are already 50% damaged after the latest attacks. “People are willing to survive and prepare for even worse scenarios. Morale is very high and they know that the soldiers on the front are in a much worse situation,” said the president of Dixi.
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“Free accommodation in shelters, humanitarian aid, food and medical assistance will be provided. Assistance will also be offered to prepare an internally displaced person certificate, as well as financial assistance from the State and international organizations, ”Vereschuk added in his message to convince the population. In the two days that EL PAÍS was in Kherson, many residents expressed their desire to stay in their homes despite the adversities. In the western provinces of Ukraine, including in areas with power outages, prefabricated units are being set up to accommodate new groups of refugees.
The Russians, a kilometer away
Vereschuk has also mentioned the uncertain situation that Kherson faces as a city that is located on the war front. The Russian positions are only a kilometer away, on the other side of the Dnieper River. A spokesman for the Military High Command for the Southern Region of Ukraine confirmed last week to this newspaper that, depending on developments at the front, the neighborhoods most exposed to the exchange of artillery should be compulsorily evacuated. “Russian artillery fire makes the situation in Kherson more complicated than in kyiv,” adds Pavlenko to justify the authorities’ plans to offer citizens a way out.
Mikhailo Podoliak, an adviser to the Ukrainian president, warned in a message on his social networks on Monday that Russia was already punishing Kherson with bombs: “The Russian Federation began to systematically bomb Kherson. There is no military logic in it – they just want to take revenge on the local population. This is a huge live war crime.” “Is there anyone who has seen any communiqué from the United Nations Human Rights Office? Or is it that Russia’s actions no longer matter?” Podoliak added. His words came a few hours after the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights asked that a possible war crime committed in Lugansk against Russian soldiers be investigated.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky estimated on Monday that half of Ukraine’s energy grid has been destroyed by the Russian offensive. Millions of people will have to face the inclemencies of winter without being able to warm up, which could cause a new wave of refugees from Ukraine to the European Union. Olena Zerkal, former Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, assured last October in a conference organized by the Atlantic Council study center, that the possibility of having more population forcibly leaving the country was high: “Winter is going to be very hard, no we were prepared, we did not foresee an attack of this scale against the energy network”.
The World Health Organization (WHO, an agency dependent on the UN) warns that there are hundreds of hospitals and health centers throughout the country that lack fuel, water or electricity. “Ukraine’s health system is facing its darkest days to date,” Hans Kluge, WHO’s regional director for Europe, said in a statement after visiting the country.
This week began with power cuts in all 24 regions of Ukraine (Crimea, illegally occupied by Russia since 2014, maintains its status as an autonomous republic), the state company Ukrenergo announced. “We do not have the capacity to generate all the necessary energy for consumers,” its top manager, Volodímir Kudritskii, warned this Tuesday. He insists that no thermal or hydroelectric power plant in the country has emerged unscathed from the bombing, although, for now, they rule out the need to carry out evacuations of civilians. He is confident that, in the short term, the temperatures will take a breather starting this Wednesday, after the snowfall these days.
The attack against energy infrastructure on November 15, when 15 electrical installations were hit, was described as the worst carried out so far by Russia, denounced the kyiv government. Zelenski said that up to 10 million people had lost power, although in some areas it was recovering. There are also problems in some regions with running water, gas, or communications through mobile phones and the Internet.
In the midst of this Russian strategy of using cold as a weapon of war, Ukraine’s nuclear power plants remain critical strategic points. In recent days, three of them have been under attack: Zaporizhia, Rivne and Khemelnitsky. In all three cases, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has reported the attacks, although in the one that occurred last weekend in Zaporizhia, which is home to the largest power plant in Europe, now in Russian hands, Moscow and kyiv they have accused each other of being behind the launch of the projectiles.
The authorities of the kyiv region have mentioned the existence of evacuation plans designed in case the network does not support the high consumption that is expected these weeks in a country where the snow has already arrived. The deputy prime minister herself asked at the end of October, even before Russia carried out its latest attacks, that the Ukrainians who remain abroad not return to the country until spring as a way of fighting against the overload in the consumption of some infrastructures. that work these days only at 50%.
The care model announced by Vereshchuk for the population of Kherson is similar to that already applied to other populations such as Mariupol, although in this case it was the civilians themselves who fled after weeks of intense fighting until that city fell to the side of Russian troops. . The Mariupol authorities now have a dozen municipal delegations in different regions of Ukraine that are in charge of serving and helping their citizens. Something similar occurs with the city of Zaporizhia, also in the south, where the inhabitants of different localities find service and information points. That city is the main point of arrival of the population that manages to escape from the occupied areas in three regions: Zaporizhia itself, Donetsk and Kherson. All three regions are partly in Russian hands.
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