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Russian and Ukrainian troops prepare for a major battle in Kherson

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KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian and Ukrainian troops are revealed to be engaged in a major battle on Thursday over the strategic southern industrial port city of Kherson, in an area illegally annexed by Russian President Vladimir Putin and subject to martial law.

Clashes and evictions have been reported in the Kherson region as Moscow sought to subdue the occupied country with more missile and drone strikes on critical infrastructure..

Faced with battlefield setbacks, a troubled troop mobilization, growing criticism at home and abroad, and international sanctions, Putin declared martial law in the Kherson, Luhansk, Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia regions on Wednesday to defend Russian authority in the annexed areas.

The precarious situation of the illegally occupied region was particularly evident in the capital of the Kherson region, where Russian military officials replaced civilian leaders appointed by the Kremlin under martial law, which came into effect on Thursday to defend against a Ukrainian counter-attack.

The city of Kherson, with a pre-war population of about 284,000, was one of the first urban areas Russia captured when it invaded Ukraine and remains the largest city it ever had. It is a primary destination for both sides because of its key industries and large river port. Reports of sabotage and assassination by Russian-appointed officials in Kherson have been surfacing for months, appearing as one of the most active Ukrainian resistance movements in the occupied territories.

Russian-appointed officials urged residents to evacuate for their safety and allow the army to build fortifications. Officials said 15,000 people, expected to be 60,000, had moved from the city and surrounding areas as of Thursday.

Ukrainian forces carried out 15 attacks on Russian military strongholds in the Kherson region, the office of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Thursday. A spokesman for the Russian Ministry of Defense said that Kremlin forces repelled attempts to advance with tanks in the Ukrainian villages of Sukhanove, Nova Kamianka and Chervonyi Yar Kherson.

Russian official in the region, Vladimir Leontyev, said on Thursday that Ukrainian forces launched five missile attacks on the Kakhovka dam and hydroelectric power station, about 70 km (44 mi) from the city of Kherson. He told Russian television that if the facilities were destroyed, a critical channel supplying water to annexed Crimea would be cut.

Zelenskyy countered by planning to blow up the Russians’ dam and power station in what he called an act of terrorism to expose 18 million cubic meters (4.8 billion gallons) and flood Kherson and dozens of areas inhabited by hundreds of thousands of people. live. He told the Council of Europe that Russia would blame Ukraine from now on.

None of the claims could be independently verified.

Russia’s new military commander in Ukraine acknowledged the threat posed by Ukraine’s offensive against Kherson this week, and the British Ministry of Defense said Thursday that “Russian authorities are seriously considering a major withdrawal of their forces from the area west of the Dnieper River”. commented.

Putin on Thursday sought to address another problem area, the partial mobilization of reserve troops he ordered last month, and predicted it would end by the end of this month, reaching his target of 300,000. He made progress in resolving training and material problems for newly mobilized troops by visiting a training center in Russia’s Ryazan region. Russian television showed him lying under the net on the field, wearing goggles and ear protection, and shooting with a rifle. A military official showed Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s soldiers wearing bulletproof vests and helmets and armed. The officer displayed winter boots, clothing, kitchen utensils and other supplies – all in opposition to images Russians posted on social media of shabby or non-existent equipment for newly mobilized troops.

In another sign of Russia’s hesitant mobilization, Ukrainian officials said more than 3,000 Russians were seeking a hotline for soldiers who did not want to join the war and wanted to surrender.

In other developments:

Russian forces attacked Ukrainian positions near the village of Bilohorivka in the Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine. In the neighboring Donetsk region, near the city of Bakhmut, clashes intensified. Kremlin-backed separatists have controlled parts of both regions for 8½ years.

—Russia continued to attack energy infrastructure, sending drones and sending missiles to eight districts, asking authorities to ask residents to lower their energy consumption from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. and to dim the city’s street lights. They warned of continued cuts on Friday. In Kryvyi Rih, Russian attacks damaged a power station and another power plant and cut off electricity to the central Ukrainian city of about 600,000 inhabitants. Kryvyi Rih is home to metallurgical factories that are key to the Ukrainian economy. Governor Valentin Reznichenko said the city was severely damaged.

—Ukrainian officials said missile and drone strikes set fire to the southern city of Mykolaiv, and four drones hit a school. Another school in Komyshuvaka, a village in Zaporizhzhia, also carried out four drone strikes.

—The general staff of the Ukrainian army reported that the chances of Russian forces attacking from Belarus to cut off the supply routes of Western weapons and equipment have increased. General Staff official Oleksei Hromov said that Russia has deployed aircraft and troops in Belarus.

—The White House says Iranian troops are “directly engaged on land” to support Russian drones in Crimea, and this is disturbing evidence that Tehran’s role in assisting Russia is deepening, as the cold weather sets in and Ukrainian civilians suffer.

—Despite the Kremlin’s — and Iran’s — assertions to the contrary, a leading Russian military expert has unwittingly admitted that Iran is supplying Russia with armed drones it uses in Ukraine. Before a television interview, Ruslan Pukhov, head of the Center for Strategies and Technologies Analysis, a Moscow-based think tank, urged reporters not to question where the drones were coming from, unaware that they were on air. “We all know these are Iranian-made, but the authorities did not acknowledge it,” Pukhov said.

The EU imposed sanctions on Thursday. For undermining Ukraine’s territorial integrity by helping Iran’s Shahed Aviation Industries and three Iranian armed forces generals supply drones to Russia.

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Lorne Cook from Brussels, Amir Vahdat from Tehran, Yuras Karmanau from Tallinn, Estonia, and Andrew Katell from New York contributed to this report.

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

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