Ukraine will begin evacuating people who wish to leave the recently liberated southern city of Kherson and its surrounding areas, Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshuk announced, citing damage to infrastructure by Russian forces that has made life very difficult for residents.
Officials said news of the evacuation came as Russian missiles were reported to have hit an oil depot in Kherson on Saturday night, the first time a fuel storage facility in the city had been hit since Russia withdrew more than a week ago.
On Saturday, Vereshchuk said a number of people had expressed a desire to move away from Kherson and the area around Mykolaiv, 65 km (40 miles) to the northwest.
“It is possible in the next few days,” she said at a televised news conference in Mykolaiv when asked when evacuations from Kherson would begin.
Vereshok said the government had already made the necessary preparations for the evacuation. She added that among those who wanted to leave were the elderly and those affected by the Russian bombing.
This is just a voluntary evacuation. “At the moment, we are not talking about forced eviction,” Verichuk said.
But even in the event of a voluntary evacuation, the state bears responsibility for transportation. People must be taken to the place where they are going to spend the winter.
She added that the government had several evacuation options, one of which was using Mykolaiv as a transit point before people were sent west to safer parts of the country.
In August, Vereshchuk said that Ukraine planned to expand the number of front-line areas where civilian evacuations would be mandatory, as these areas could be occupied and would also have heating problems during the Ukrainian winter months.
Firefighters at the site told the Associated Press news agency that two missiles hit a fuel depot on Saturday in Kherson.
Anton Gerashchenko, a government adviser and former deputy minister to Ukraine’s Minister of Internal Affairs, posted a short video clip on Twitter apparently showing thick smoke billowing after powerful explosions were reported in Kherson on Saturday.
“Russia continues its daily terror,” he wrote.
Local media reported powerful explosions in Kherson.
The Russian bombing caused a fire.
Russia continues its daily terror.
Kherson has just been liberated, and there is still no water or electricity. Russia added bombing to that. People have already been through a lot. pic.twitter.com/wILWxYkdJO
– Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) November 19, 2022
Ukrainian authorities have accused Russian forces of destroying Kherson’s vital infrastructure before withdrawing earlier this month.
Local authorities also told the Associated Press that when Russian forces left the Kherson city area, they stole fire trucks and ambulances, and firefighters said they were now seeking resources to respond to the rocket and other attacks.
President Volodymyr Zelensky and other officials have accused Russia of trying to destabilize the country by destroying power plants in an effort to freeze the population and force millions of Ukrainians to flee west, creating a refugee crisis for the European Union.
Ukraine’s Energy Ministry said on Saturday that the country’s electricity supply is under control despite Russia’s continuing wave of attacks on power generation infrastructure.
Russian missile strikes have crippled nearly half of Ukraine’s energy system, and Kyiv authorities said on Friday that a complete shutdown of the capital’s power grid was possible.
“We assure you that the situation with energy supplies is difficult, but it is under control,” the Energy Ministry said in a statement.
The ministry said authorities across the country had decided to cut power supply to aid repair efforts, and urged households to reduce their energy consumption by at least 25 percent.
Maxim Timchenko, head of DTEK, the country’s largest private energy company, said the Ukrainian armed forces, energy industry and personnel are working miracles to maintain supplies and people should not flee the country.
“That is why there is no need to leave Ukraine today,” a company statement quoted him as saying on Saturday.
Also on Saturday, the first train in nine months traveling from Kyiv to Kherson arrived in the city after leaving the Ukrainian capital on Friday night – a journey made possible only by Russia’s withdrawal.
Ukraine’s railway network, Ukrzaliznytsia, said 200 passengers traveled on the train, dubbed “Train to Victory”, which was painted with eclectic designs by Ukrainian artists. Tickets were sold as part of a fundraiser.