Ukraine will begin to evacuate people who want to leave the recently liberated southern city of Kherson and its surrounding areas, Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk has announced, citing damage to infrastructure by Russian forces that had made life extremely difficult for residents.
News of the evacuation came as Russian missiles were reported to have struck an oil depot in Kherson on Saturday evening, officials said, the first time a fuel storage facility had been hit in the city since Russia withdrew more than a week ago.
Vereshchuk said on Saturday that a number of people had expressed a wish to move away from Kherson and the area around Mykolaiv, about 65 km (40 miles) to the northwest.
“This is possible in the next few days,” she told a televised news conference in Mykolaiv when asked when the evacuations from Kherson would begin.
Vereshchuck said the government had already made the necessary preparations for the evacuation. Among those who wanted to leave were the elderly and those who had been affected by Russian shelling, she said.
“This is only a voluntary evacuation. Currently, we are not talking about forced evacuation,” Vereshchuk said.
“But even in the case of voluntary evacuation, the state bears responsibility for transportation. People must be taken to the place where they will spend the winter,” she said.
The government had several evacuation options, one of which was to use Mykolaiv as a transit point before sending people further west into safer areas of the country, she added.
In August, Vereshchuk said Ukraine planned to expand the number of front-line districts where civilian evacuations would be mandatory, as those areas could be occupied and would also face problems with heating during the Ukrainian winter months.
Two missiles hit a fuel depot on Saturday in Kherson, firefighters at the scene told the Associated Press news organisation.
Anton Gerashchenko, a government adviser and a former deputy minister at Ukraine’s minister of internal affairs, posted a short video on Twitter apparently showing thick smoke billowing after powerful explosions were reported in Kherson on Saturday.
“Russia continues its daily terror,” he wrote.
Local media report powerful explosions in Kherson.
Russian shelling caused a fire.
Russia continues its daily terror.
Kherson was just liberated, there’s still no water and electricity. Russia had added shelling to that. People have already been through so much. pic.twitter.com/wILWxYkdJO
— Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) November 19, 2022
Ukrainian authorities have accused Russian troops of destroying Kherson’s critical infrastructure before retreating earlier this month.
Local authorities also told the Associated Press that when Russian forces left the Kherson city area, they stole fire trucks and ambulances, and firefighters said they were now scrambling for resources to respond to missile and other attacks.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other officials have accused Russia of trying to destabilise the country by destroying power stations in an attempt to freeze the population into submission and force millions of Ukrainians to flee westward, creating a refugee crisis for the European Union.
Ukraine’s energy ministry said on Saturday that the country’s electricity supplies were under control despite the ongoing wave of Russian attacks on power-generating infrastructure.
Russian missile raids have crippled almost half of Ukraine’s energy system and Kyiv authorities said on Friday that a complete shutdown of the capital’s power grid was possible.
“We assure you that the situation with the energy supply is difficult, but under control,” the energy ministry said in a statement.
Authorities across the country have scheduled blackouts to help the repair effort, the ministry said, urging families to cut their energy consumption by at least 25 percent.
Maxim Timchenko, the head of DTEK, the country’s largest private energy company, said the armed forces, the energy industry and individual Ukrainians were working miracles to maintain supplies and people should not flee the country.
“That is why there is no need to leave Ukraine today,” a company statement cited him as saying on Saturday.
Also on Saturday, the first train in nine months to travel from Kyiv to Kherson arrived in the city after departing the Ukrainian capital on Friday night — a journey only made possible by the Russian withdrawal.
Ukraine’s state rail network, Ukrzaliznytsia, said 200 passengers travelled on board the train, dubbed the “Train to Victory”, which had been painted in eclectic designs by Ukrainian artists. Tickets were sold as part of a fundraising campaign.