KYIV, Ukraine – Ukrainian forces attacked the southern Russian city of Kherson on Thursday as fighting intensified in the east of the country. The wars come amid reports that the Moscow-appointed government has abandoned the city, with tens of thousands of residents fleeing to other Russian-administered regions.
Ukrainian forces are besieging Kherson from the west and attacking the Russian foothold on the western bank of the Dnieper River, which divides the region and the country.
As the battle raged, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Moscow had no intention of using nuclear weapons in Ukraine, despite repeatedly warning that he was ready to use all available means to defend Russia, including the country’s nuclear arsenal.
“We see no need for that,” Putin said at a conference of international foreign policy experts. “There’s no point there, politically or militarily.”
The Russian leader, who insisted for weeks before the invasion that he had no intention of attacking Ukraine, also sought to see the conflict as part of the West’s efforts to secure global dominance. He accused the US and its allies of trying to impose their terms on other countries in a “dangerous and bloody game of dominance”.
Putin, who began the invasion on February 24, has described Western support for Ukraine as part of a broad effort by Washington and its allies to enforce what they call a political order. The rule-based world order only creates chaos.
Meanwhile, Russia warned that Moscow could target commercial Western satellites used for military purposes in support of Ukraine, and a State Department spokesman accused the US of pursuing “thoughtless and insane” escalation.
Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Washington should take the same approach it did during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, when the Cold War-era superpowers backed away from the brink of nuclear confrontation.
“The more the United States is drawn into supporting the Kyiv regime on the battlefield, the more it risks provoking a direct military confrontation between the biggest nuclear powers with catastrophic consequences,” Zakharova said. “.
Ukraine has stepped up an offensive to retake the Kherson region and its eponymous capital, which Russian forces captured in the first days of the war, now in its ninth month.
More than 70,000 residents from the Kherson city area have evacuated in recent days, the region’s Kremlin governor, Vladimir Saldo, said on Thursday.
Deputy Governor Kirill Stremousov said members of the Russian-backed regional government had also fled. The memorial to Russian heroes has been moved, along with the remains of Grigory Potemkin, the Russian general who founded Kherson in the 18th century. His remains are kept in the city’s St. Catherine’s Church.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy described reports that Russian troops might withdraw from the city as false information.
“I didn’t see them fleeing from Kherson,” Zelenskyy said in an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. “This is an information attack, let us go there, move troops from other dangerous directions there.”
Zelenskyy also dismissed recent attempts by Kremlin-backed local officials to persuade the city’s civilian residents to resettle deeper into Russian-held territory before the Ukraine advance.
“Their most highly trained soldiers are in position. We see this and don’t believe them,” Zelenskyy said.
In eastern Ukraine, Russian forces continued to bombard the city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region, moving slowly towards the center.
The deputy head of Russia’s delegation to a United Nations arms control panel, Konstantin Vorontsov, described the use of commercial satellites by the US and other Western countries for military purposes in the fighting as “extreme”. dangerous period.”
“Nearly civilian infrastructure could be a legitimate target for a retaliatory attack,” Vorontsov warned.
As has been this month, Russian forces have launched attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, which has caused growing anxiety ahead of winter.
Kyiv regional governor Oleksiy Kuleba said a Russian drone strike hit an energy facility near the capital Kyiv, causing a fire. He said the latest attacks had caused “very serious damage.”
“The Russians are using drones and missiles to destroy Ukraine’s energy system before winter and terrorize civilians,” Kuleba said in a televised address.
Kuleba announced new blackouts and urged consumers to save electricity. He said authorities were still considering how to restore service.
Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy office of the president of Ukraine, said the total blackout will also apply in the neighboring regions of Chernihiv, Cherkasy and Zhytomyr.
Zelenskyy said that Russian attacks destroyed 30% of the country’s energy infrastructure.
In response to a possible Russian attack on Ukrainian infrastructure, a drone struck a power plant just outside Sevastopol, a port in the Crimea region annexed by Russia. According to city leader Mikhail Razvozhayev, the plant suffered minor damage. He said the power supply was not interrupted.
Crimea was annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014. It has faced drone attacks and explosions amid fighting in Ukraine. In a major setback for Russia, a powerful truck bomb blew up a section of a strategic bridge linking Crimea to the Russian mainland on October 8.
A senior Ukrainian military officer accused Russia of planning to orchestrate explosions at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant and blamed Ukraine for a false flag attack.
General Oleksii Gromov, head of the Main Operations Department of the General Staff of the Ukrainian Army, pointed to Moscow’s repeated baseless accusations that Ukraine was plotting to detonate a radioactive dirty bomb as a signal. could suggest that Moscow is planning explosions at Europe’s largest plant. nuclear power plant.
Russia took control of the Zaporizhzhia factory in the early days of the invasion. Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of attacking the plant, which shut down the reactors after repeated shelling.
In a separate development, Ukrainian authorities announced that another mass grave was discovered in the territory recently recovered by Russia. It holds up to 17 bodies of soldiers and civilians.
Ukraine’s Interior Ministry said in a statement that police found the grave outside the city of Izium after it was debunked by locals.
The statement quoted locals as saying that the Russian army dumped the body in a pit outside the nearby village of Kopanky in mid-April, then leveled the ground with tanks.
In a separate development, Ukrainian authorities said they were opening a criminal case against Russia’s child rights commissioner, accusing her of facilitating the kidnapping and coercion of thousands of Ukrainian children. vulnerable to adoption.
Maria Lvova-Belova said this week that she herself adopted a boy captured by the Russian military in the bombed city of Mariupol.
Last month, she was sanctioned by the US, UK and other Western countries for accusing her of masterminding the removal of more than 2,000 vulnerable children out of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine. According to Ukraine, she has also arranged a new policy to facilitate their forced placement of “adoptive families” in Russia.
Follow AP coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine