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Putin adds martial law in Ukraine regions, borders in Russia

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KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – Russian President Vladimir Putin doubles down on his faltering invasion on Wednesday Declaration of martial law in four illegally annexed regions of Ukraine and preparations for brutal new restrictions and repressions in Russia.

Putin’s vicious efforts to tighten his grip on Ukrainians and Russians follow a series of embarrassing setbacks: painful battlefield defeats, sabotage and troop mobilization woes.

Martial law denies the Kremlin’s efforts to portray life in the annexed areas as returning to normal. The fact is that in the southern city of Kherson, civilian leaders have been replaced by a military rule, and a mass evacuation from the city is underway as a Ukrainian counterattack. grinds on.

The battle for Kherson, a home of more than 250,000 people and a major port and key industries, is a pivotal moment for Ukraine and Russia, as they enter winter when their front lines can freeze for months. It was the largest city held by Russia during the war that began on February 24.

A trickle of evacuation from the city in recent days has become a flood. Local officials said on Wednesday that 5,000 were leaving the expected 60,000. Russian state television showed residents gathered along the banks of the Dnieper River, many with young children, sailing east by boat and then deeper into Russian-controlled territory.

“We are working to solve very difficult large-scale tasks to ensure Russia’s security and secure future,” Putin told the Security Council while declaring martial law to come into effect on Thursday.

Putin’s army is under increasing pressure from a Ukrainian counterattack retaking the region. The Russian leader is also faltering after the sabotage of a strategically important bridge connecting Russia to Crimea, assassinations of Kremlin-appointed officials in Kherson, and his own admissions mistakes in the partial unity mobilization.

Putin’s declaration of martial law allowed the creation of civil defense forces; possible curfews; restrictions on travel and public gatherings; stricter censorship; and wider law enforcement powers in Kherson and other annexed areas of Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia.

In a sinister move, Putin opened the door for restrictive measures to spread to Russia. This could lead to stronger opposition repression than the current dispersal of anti-war protests and the jailing of anyone who makes statements or information about the war that differs from the official line.

The severity of the new restrictions inside Russia depends on proximity to Ukraine.

Putin placed the regions closest to Ukraine on medium alert, including the annexed Crimea, Krasnodar, Belgorod, Bryansk, Kursk, Rostov. Local leaders have the authority to organize territorial defense, maintain public order and security, protect transport, communications and energy facilities, and use these resources to help meet the needs of the Russian military.

Leaders in these border areas can also carry out the resettlement of residents and restrict freedom of movement. Leaders in other areas were given similar powers, depending on their level of alert.

In the Kherson region, the Ukrainian forces pushed back the Russian positions on the western bank of the Dnieper River. By pulling back civilians and fortifying positions in the region’s main river-based city, Russian forces seem to hope that the wide, deep waters will act as a natural barrier to Ukraine’s advance.

Russia has said that the movement of Ukrainians to Russia or Russian-controlled territory is voluntary, but in most cases they have no other way out and no other options.

Under martial law, authorities can force evacuations. Ukraine’s national security chief, Oleksiy Danilov, said on Twitter that Putin’s statement was “preparation for the mass deportation of the Ukrainian population to the depressed regions of Russia in order to change the ethnic composition of the occupied region.”

For months, reports of forced deportations and an Associated Press investigation have been circulating. He found that Russian authorities had deported thousands of Ukrainian children to be raised as Russians.

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said Putin’s decree was illegal, describing it as part of an effort to “deprive those living in the temporarily occupied areas of Ukraine from even basic human rights.”

The Russian authorities played on fears of an attack on Kherson, apparently to persuade the residents to leave. Text messages warned residents to expect shelling, Russian state media reported.

A citizen reached by phone described military vehicles leaving the city, authorities in Moscow trying to load documents onto trucks, and thousands of people lining up for ferries and buses.

“It looks more like a panic than an organized evacuation. “People buy the last leftover food from the grocers and rush to the Kherson river port, where thousands of people are waiting,” he said. The AP is keeping his last name for his safety, as requested.

“People are afraid of talk about explosions, missiles and a possible blockade of the city,” he said.

The brochures told the evacuees that they could take two large suitcases, medicine and food for a few days.

Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian presidential office, described the evacuation as a “propaganda spectacle” and said that Russia’s claims that Kyiv forces could bomb Kherson were “a rather primitive tactic, given that the armed forces did not open fire on Ukrainian cities.”

Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said the operation could herald intense fighting and the “hardest” tactics of Russia’s new Ukraine commander, General Sergei Surovikin.

“They are ready to wipe the city off the face of the earth but give it back to the Ukrainians,” Zhdanov said in an interview.

Surovikin described the situation in Kherson as “very difficult”, in a rare acknowledgment of the pressure exerted by the troops in Kiev. Russian bloggers interpreted the comments as a warning of a possible Kremlin retreat. Surovikin claimed that Ukrainian forces are planning to destroy a hydroelectric plant that local officials say will flood part of Kherson.

Unable to hold all the territory it had captured and struggling with manpower and equipment losses, Russia stepped up its aerial bombardments with a scorching campaign targeting Ukrainian power plants and other important infrastructure. Russia has also increased the use of armed Iranian drones to hit apartment buildings and other civilian targets.

Russia launched multiple missiles over Ukraine on Wednesday. Ukrainian officials said they shot down four cruise missiles and 10 Iranian drones. Power plants were hit in the Vinnytsia and Ivano-Frankivsk regions.

In Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, air raid sirens sounded and many people were sent to metro stations to seek shelter. Mayor Vitali Klitschko announced that the city will start seasonal central heating at lower-than-normal temperatures on Thursday to save energy.

A Ukrainian energy official, Oleksandr Kharchenko, reported on Wednesday that 40% of the country’s electricity system was severely damaged. Authorities warned all residents to cut consumption and said the power supply would be reduced on Thursday to avoid power outages. One area reportedly cut off from electricity and water due to night bombardment was Enerhodar. The southern city is next to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, one of the most alarming flashpoints of the war.

The missiles severely damaged a power plant near Zelenskyy’s hometown of Kryvyi Rih, a city in south-central Ukraine, and cut off electricity to villages, towns and an urban area, the regional governor reported.

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Reported from Karmanau, Estonia, Tallinn.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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