Vladimir Putin demands evacuation of civilians from Kherson

President Vladimir Putin of Russia, Kherson, announced that Ukraine will take back the city.

“People living in Kherson should get out of the most dangerous areas [combat] operations, because the civilian population should not suffer,” Putin told a group of volunteers in Red Square on Friday.

Putin has never publicly called for civilians to leave, even though his subordinates have been touting this for weeks. During its invasion of Ukraine, Russia launched a fierce counteroffensive to retake Kherson, the only regional capital it had held for nine months.

The battlefield setbacks have coincided with renewed efforts to target Ukraine’s energy infrastructure as winter approaches. 4.5mn people have been left without power across the country, as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Putin of “violent terror”.

The outage follows a series of massive Russian missile and drone attacks on Ukrainian power stations in recent weeks that have plunged much of Kiev and the rest of the country into darkness. Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on Friday that 450,000 residents of the capital were without power.

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Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu admitted this week that his country’s military was targeting critical infrastructure to “destroy military infrastructure as well as facilities that have an impact on reducing Ukraine’s military capabilities.”

Also on Friday, the Pentagon announced $400mn in military aid to Ukraine to supply Hawk air defense systems and tactical Phoenix Spirit drones, as well as refurbish advanced tanks from the Czech Republic.

The delivery of the Hawk system, which the US replaced with the Patriot system in the mid-1990s, represents an improvement over the Stinger surface-to-air missiles it has offered so far because the Hawk systems have a longer range.

G7 foreign ministers meeting in the German city of Münster on Friday said they had established a “G7 coordination mechanism” to help Ukraine “repair, restore and protect critical energy and water infrastructure”.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, who hosted the meeting, said the G7 was preparing a “winter package” for Ukraine. “[We’re] Providing generators, mobile homes, water pumps and sanitation facilities,” she told reporters after the meeting.

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It is the first time the US has funded a tank shipment to Ukraine since the war began. The United States is funding the refurbishing of 45 tanks held by the Czech Republic, which will be used to re-equip an additional 45 tanks in the Netherlands.

In Kherson, Russia annexed the surrounding district and three other southeastern Ukrainian regions in September, but it continues to lose to Ukraine’s larger and better-armed forces.

Putin declared martial law in the four regions last month, giving authorities more powers, including the ability to forcibly evacuate citizens. Russian-backed officials have repeatedly called for the evacuation of Kherson province west of the Dnipro River in recent weeks.

In a video posted after Putin’s comments, the region’s Russian-appointed deputy governor, Kirill Stremosov, said a 24-hour curfew had been imposed “to protect the city”. This “allows the army to do its job without civilians.”

Soon after, however, he deleted the video and posted another one, confirming that Kerson was completely under Russian control.

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The effect of repeated Russian attacks is being felt in Kiev. Missile bays are quickly filled and broken windows are boarded. But after sunset, the city descends into an eerie blackness.

Street lights and commercial signs are gone, candles are lit in windows and people move through the streets with torches, their faces illuminated only by smartphone screens.

The power outage also affected businesses and some were forced to close due to the outage. A major supermarket had to cancel orders and was unable to process payments when the electricity went out.

Sporting goods and electronics stores, however, were flooded with customers. Ole Mrichko, manager of the Gorgani sporting goods store in Kiev, said more people came “after every drone and missile attack.”

“They’re coming in to buy these,” he said, pointing to lighting and portable cooking stoves. Customers also stocked up on jackets, gloves, hats, torches, tarps, rapid fire starters, wool socks and hand warmers.

Additional reporting by Guy Chazan Berlin and James Polity of Washington

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