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Russian commander says situation 'tense' for forces in Ukraine

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  • Ukrainians attack to retake territories claimed by Russia
  • Some civilians relocated by Russia from towns in the Kherson region
  • Russia destroys electricity and water infrastructure across Ukraine
  • Kyiv asks UN to review what it says downed Iranian-made drones

KYIV, October 19 (Reuters) – The new commander of Russian forces in Ukraine has rarely acknowledged the pressures of Ukrainian offensives to retake the southern and eastern regions Moscow said it had annexed a few weeks ago.

In another sign of Russia’s concern, the chief of the Kremlin-appointed strategic southern region of Kherson on Tuesday announced an “organised, gradual displacement” of civilians from four towns on the Dnipro River.

“The situation in the field of ‘Special Military Operations’ could be described as tense,” Sergei Surovikin, the Russian air force general who commands Russia’s occupation forces, told state-owned Rossiya 24 news channel.

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Regarding Kherson, Surovikin said, “The situation in this region is difficult. The enemy is deliberately hitting infrastructure and residential buildings.”

Russian forces in the Kherson region have been pushed back 20-30 km (13-20 mi) in the past few weeks and are at risk of crashing into the western bank of the 2,200 km long Dnipro river that bisects Ukraine.

Also in the south, Vladimir Rogov, a member of the council that governs the Russian-established Zaporizhzhia, said Ukrainian forces bombed the Russian-controlled Enerhodar overnight, where most of the employees of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant live.

On Wednesday, Telegram said on its messaging app that artillery had hit the outskirts of town, with 10 attacks around a thermal power plant.

Dmytro Orlov, recognized by Ukraine as the mayor of Enerhodar, blamed Russia for the bombardment.

“The shelling of the industrial area first, and then the city itself, began at midnight and did not stop in the morning,” he wrote in a post on Telegram.

Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said he expects to return to Ukraine “soon” during negotiations to establish a security protection zone around the Zaporizhzhia plant, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.

The Zaporizhzhia plant is located in one of four regions of Ukraine that Russia has declared annexed but partially occupied, the other three being Kherson and the eastern border provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk – collectively known as the Donbas.

President Vladimir Putin declared them full-fledged regions of Russia after holding what Moscow called referendums in September, which Kyiv and the Western governments denounced as illegal and coercive.

Russian forces have carried out attacks with cruise, aviation and anti-aircraft guided missiles in various regions, including Kyiv and Zaporizhzhia, in the past 24 hours, the Ukrainian military said on Wednesday.

In addition, the invaders used 14 Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones, 10 of which were shot down.

Reuters was unable to independently verify the battlefield reports.

Both Ukraine and Russia have denied targeting civilians, but Ukraine has accused Russia’s forces of war crimes.

BUILDING FORCES

The conflict escalated into a war of attrition fought mainly in the east and south, as Russian troops flocked to the Ukrainian border on February 24 in what Putin called a “special military operation”.

In the east, the positions of Russian troops in Kupiansk and Lyman, and in the area between Mykolaiv and Kryvyi Rih in the Kherson province, were indicated by Surovikin as being under constant attack.

He seemed to acknowledge that the Ukrainian forces were in danger of advancing towards the city of Kherson, near the mouth of the Dnipro, on the western bank. Russia captured the city in the early days of the invasion, and it remains the only major Ukrainian city that Moscow forces captured intact.

Russian-backed officials have warned that a Ukrainian attack may be imminent.

Vladimir Saldo, the Kherson regional chief commissioned by Russia, said the risk of a Ukrainian attack led to the decision to evacuate some civilians from the four towns.

“The Ukrainian side is building up its forces for a large-scale attack,” Saldo said in a video description. Said. He said the Russian army was preparing to repel the attack and that “where the army operates, there is no room for civilians”.

MISSILE RAINS, UAVS

Last week, Russia launched the largest wave of missile strikes against Ukraine since the beginning of the invasion.

Putin used airstrikes with missiles and drones as revenge for an explosion that damaged Russia’s Crimean bridge.

Ukraine did not take responsibility for the October 8 bridge explosion, but celebrated.

The US, UK and France plan to increase Iran’s alleged arms transfers to Russia at a Security Council meeting to be held behind closed doors on Wednesday, diplomats said.

In a video speech on Tuesday night, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Russia’s reliance on Iranian-made drones exposes Russia as “militarily and politically bankrupt”.

Ukraine accuses Russia of using Iranian-made Shahed-136 “kamikaze drones”. Iran refuses to supply them and the Kremlin refuses to use them.

But two senior Iranian officials and two Iranian diplomats told Reuters that Tehran has promised to provide Russia with more drones and surface-to-surface missiles.

Zelenskiy also said that Russia destroyed almost a third of power plants in Ukraine last week and urged people to cut back on electricity consumption.

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reporting by Reuters offices; Written by Grant McCool and Himani Sarkar; Editing Rosalba O’Brien, Stephen Coates and Robert Birsel

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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