Occupation officials in the southern Ukrainian region of Kherson have asked the Kremlin to help civilians leave the area for Russia in the face of a counterattack by Kyiv’s forces, as Moscow’s military launched more missiles and drones at cities across Ukraine.
At least three people were killed and four were missing after rockets hit an apartment block in Mykolaiv near the Black Sea, and civilian infrastructure and military targets were hit in the central region of Kyiv and outside Lviv near the Polish border, as more western states pledged to supply Ukraine with air defence systems.
“Every day the cities of the Kherson region are subjected to missile strikes,” said Vladimir Saldo, the Moscow-appointed governor of the partly occupied province.
“As a result of this, the leadership of the Kherson administration decided to provide Kherson families with the chance to leave for other regions of the Russian Federation to rest and study ... Take your children and leave,” he added, asking the Kremlin to “help organise this”.
Moscow appointees in the partly occupied Ukrainian regions of Kherson, Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia staged sham “referendums” on joining Russia last month, after which the Kremlin announced the annexation of the provinces in a breach of international law that has been rejected by most countries.
A resolution supporting Ukraine’s independence and territorial integrity was backed in the United Nations general assembly on Wednesday by 143 countries, while 35 states abstained and only Russia, Belarus, North Korea, Syria and Nicaragua voted against.
Ukraine says it has retaken more than 1,000 sq km of territory and dozens of settlements in Kherson since August, during a two-pronged counter-offensive that led to Russian forces fleeing the north eastern Kharkiv region in disarray.
Mr Saldo’s deputy governor confirmed that civilians were being offered the chance to “move temporarily” from Kherson to Russia, but denied it was an evacuation: “No one is retreating or evacuating, no one plans to leave the territory of Kherson region.” said Kirill Stremousov.
Ukraine has severely degraded Russian supply lines in eastern and southern regions in recent months with high-precision artillery provided by western states, who have this week pledged to provide Kyiv with more of those systems and air defence weapons.
Germany delivered the first of four Iris-T air defence systems to Ukraine ahead of schedule this month, the United States says it is speeding up supply of its Nasams systems, and Britain and France also promised to send missiles and other air defence equipment.
Moscow has warned the West that it risks becoming become party to the conflict by supplying Kyiv with advanced weapons, and Russian leader Vladimir Putin has threatened to use everything in his arsenal to stop Ukraine retaking territory that he has occupied.
“Putin is saying he is not bluffing. Well, he cannot afford bluffing, and it has to be clear that the people supporting Ukraine and the European Union and the member states, and the United States and Nato are not bluffing neither,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Thursday.
“Any nuclear attack against Ukraine will create an answer, not a nuclear answer but such a powerful answer from the military side that the Russian army will be annihilated.”
Mr Putin suggested to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan that his country become a new hub for Russian gas deliveries to Europe after Moscow slashed energy supplies to EU states and mysterious explosions badly damaged two Baltic pipelines.
The Kremlin said several people had been arrested in Russia for plotting to damage the TurkStream pipeline that carries gas to Turkey under the Black Sea.