The mixed messages Friday may be part of a Kremlin strategy to fight for the southern city even harder.
The strategic southern Ukraine city of Kherson hangs in the balance Friday, as top leadership in Moscow is sending conflicting messages.
Kirill Stremousov, the deputy head of Kherson’s Moscow-installed administration, told Russian state television that “most likely, our units, our troops will go to the left bank part of the Kherson region.” The revelation appears to signal a withdrawal of Russian troops from the strategic southern city that would prove to be a major setback for Moscow.
The Russian flag normally hanging in front of the regional administration in Ukraine’s occupied Kherson region has been taken down, pro-Russian Telegram channels said Thursday. “I drove up to the building of the former government of the Kherson region; I confirm that there is no [Russian] flag over it,” pro-Kremlin war correspondent Alexander Kots said on his Telegram channel.
Still, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent what seems to be a very different signal on Friday, telling civilians in the Kherson region to leave, because fighting was set to intensify. Quoting a meeting Putin had with pro-Kremlin activists, RIA media says the Russian president said: “Now, of course, those who live in Kherson should be removed from the zone of the most dangerous actions, because the civilian population should not suffer.”
Indeed Ukrainian military spokeswoman Natalia Humeniuk, warned that Russia may be trying to set a trap, "to create the impression that the settlements are abandoned, that it is safe to enter them, while they are preparing for street battles."
Over the past few weeks, Russian-installed proxies and collaborators in Kherson have been resettling closer to Crimea in hotels on the Arabat Spit, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry's Intelligence Directorate reported. At the same time, as a result of poor morale and a reluctance to fight, the Russian army has begun deploying blockading troops and blocking units, threatening to shoot soldiers attempting to retreat.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that Ukrainian forces could retake the city from Russian troops. "On the issue of whether the Ukrainians can take the remaining territory on the west side of the Dnipro river and in Kherson, I certainly believe that they have the capability to do that," Austin told a news conference Thursday at the Pentagon.
The Ukrainian city, located on both the Black Sea and the Dnieper River, was occupied by Russian forces in the first days of the war, giving Moscow control over major sources of freshwater supplies to Crimea. Taking back Kherson has been a top objective of the fall Ukrainian counteroffensive, and would help Kyiv regain control over parts of the Black Sea coastline important to food exports, and would be of major symbolic value eight months after it fell into Russian hands.
Millions Of Ukrainians Left Without Power, Fear Spreads As Winter Approaches
Power outage in Odesa
Around 4.5 million Ukrainians were dealing with power outages as of Thursday evening, according to President Volodymr Zelensky. Households across the country have been temporarily disconnected from energy supply due to an emergency drill to stabilize the nation’s electric grid after weeks of Russia shelling civilian infrastructure.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Thursday that G7 countries have a "moral duty" to help Ukraine, as Putin counts on the winter to help his forces advance in Ukraine and weaken the will of both Kyiv and its allies.
Meanwhile civilians are getting more and more fearful as Moscow continues its attack on civilian infrastructure. The Kremlin's continued assaults on energy facilities disrupted electricity in almost half a million homes in Kyiv on Friday, according to the capital’s mayor Vitali Klitschko.
“Stabilization outages are applied due to overloading of the central unit of the country’s energy system. I urge all city residents to save electricity as much as possible because the situation remains difficult,” he said in a Telegram post.
A Brutal View From Kyiv, As Power Is Cut
Nights in Kyiv now are completely dark, everywhere. There are no streetlights or signs. A curfew is in order. The trams have stopped: some routes have been replaced by buses, but not all. Traffic lights do not work. Police have asked residents to attach reflective stripes to clothing or cross the road with a flashlight - so that drivers can see. In the period Oct. 10-23, 51 pedestrians died in Ukraine, 25% more than in the previous two weeks.
Maria Zholobova, reporting from the Ukrainian capital for independent Russian news outlet Vazhnyye Istorii, describes the brutal consequences of Moscow’s intentional strategy to deprive civilians of light, water and heat. And it will only grow more brutal as winter arrives. Read the English edition of the article at Worldcrunch.
UN Nuclear Watchdog Find No Evidence Of “Dirty Bomb”
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) experts have completed inspections at three Ukrainian nuclear facilities and found no "indications of undeclared nuclear activities and materials at the locations," the agency's chief, Rafael Grossi, said in a written statement.
The inspections were carried out at Ukraine's request after Russia accused Ukraine of developing a "dirty bomb," a device that uses explosives to scatter radioactive material.
"Our technical and scientific evaluation of the results we have so far did not show any sign of undeclared nuclear activities and materials at these three locations," Grossi said.
Russia Frees 107 Ukrainian Soldiers, Including Azovstal Workers
Kyiv announced late Thursday that 107 Ukrainian soldiers were released from Russian captivity, including 74 defenders of the Azovstal steel plant, many of whom were seriously wounded. Andriy Yermak, head of Ukraine’s Presidential Office, explained the nature of the latest prisoner exchange: "We've managed to exchange those who were seriously wounded in Mariupol... boys with shrapnel wounds in their arms and legs. There are people with amputated limbs and burns, who don't feel part of their face," Yermak said.
More than 1,000 Ukrainians have been returned from Russian captivity since the beginning of Russia's invasion, according to the Defense Ministry's Intelligence Directorate. During the last prisoner exchange on October 29, Russia released 52 Ukrainian prisoners of war.
G7 Foreign Ministers Agree On Price Cap On Russian Oil
G7 Foreign ministers, along with Australia, have agreed to set a fixed price cap on Russian oil.
Debates sparked recently stemmed from concerns over sea-borne oil shipments coming from Russia, and the need to ensure EU and U.S. sanctions aimed at limiting Moscow's ability to fund its invasion of Ukraine do not throttle the global oil market.
A floating price set below the Brent international benchmark could potentially enable Russian President Vladimir Putin to profit from the mechanism by reducing supply.
Brittney Griner Meets With U.S. Embassy Officials In Russian Prison
According to White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, officials from the U.S. embassy in Moscow were able to meet with detained American basketball star Brittney Griner on Thursday. State Department spokesperson Ned Price, said in a tweet that embassy officials “saw firsthand her tenacity and perseverance despite her present circumstances.”
Jean-Pierre said on Thursday that the “the U.S. government made a significant offer to the Russians to resolve the current unacceptable and wrongful detentions” of Griner and another American, ex-marine Paul Whelan.