KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Moscow-appointed authorities have fled the capital of southern Ukraine’s Kherson region along with tens of thousands of residents as Ukrainian forces attacked Russia’s hold on the city Thursda y while fighting also intensified in the country’s east.
Amid the battles, a senior Russian official warned that Western commercial satellites used for military purposes in support of Ukraine were a “legitimate target for a retaliatory strike.”
Ukraine has pushed ahead with an offensive to reclaim the Kherson region and its capital of the same name, which Russian forces captured during the first days of a war now in its ninth month.
More than 70,000 residents from the Kherson city area have evacuated in recent days, the region’s Kremlin-installed governor, Vladimir Saldo, said Thursday.
Members of the Russia-backed regional administration were included in the evacuation, the deputy governor, Kirill Stremousov said. Monuments to Russian heroes were moved, along with the remains of Grigory Potemkin, the Russian general who founded Kherson in the 18th century, that were kept at the city’s St. Catherine’s Church.
Ukrainian forces were surrounding Kherson from the west and attacking Russia’s foothold on the west bank of the Dnieper River, which divides the region and the country.
In eastern Ukraine, Russian forces continued to bombard the Donestsk region city of Bakhmut, making slow gains toward the center.
Amid the heavy combat on two fronts, a Russian official warned that the West could become part of the conflict.
The deputy head of Russia’s delegation at a United Nations arms control panel, Konstantin Vorontsov, described the use of U.S. and other Western commercial satellites for military purposes during the fighting in Ukraine as “extremely dangerous.”
“The quasi-civilian infrastructure could be a legitimate target for a retaliatory strike” Vorontsov warned without elaborating.
As they have all month, Russian forces carried out attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure that have caused increasing worry ahead of winter.
A Russian drone attack early Thursday hit an energy facility near the capital, causing a fire, said Kyiv region Gov. Oleksiy Kuleba. He said in a video statement that the latest attacks inflicted “very serious damage.”
“The Russians are using drones and missiles to destroy Ukraine’s energy system ahead of the winter and terrorize civilians,” Kuleba said in televised remarks.
Kuleba announced new rolling blackouts and urged consumers to save power. He said authorities were still pondering over specifics of the blackouts needed to restore the damaged power facilities.
Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential office, said rolling blackouts would also be introduced in the neighboring Chernihiv, Cherkasy and Zhytomyr regioms.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said that Russian attacks have already destroyed 30% of the country’s energy infrastructure.
In a likely response to Russia’s attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure, a power plant was attacked just outside Sevastopol, a port in the Russian-annexed region of Crimea. The plant suffered minor damage in a drone attack, according to city leader Mikhail Razvozhayev.
Razvozhayev said electricity supplies were uninterrupted.
Crimea, a region slightly larger than Sicily which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, has faced drone attacks and explosions amid the fighting in Ukraine. In a major setback for Russia, a powerful truck bomb blew up a section of a strategic bridge linking Crimea to Russia’s mainland on Oct. 8.
A senior Ukrainian military officer accused Russia of planning to stage explosions at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant and blame them on Ukraine in a false flag attack.
Gen. Oleksii Gromov, the chief of the main operational department of the Ukrainian military’s general staff, pointed to Moscow’s repeated unfounded allegations that Ukraine was plotting to detonate a radioactive dirty bomb as a possible signal that Moscow was planning explosions at the plant, Europe’s largest nuclear power station.
Russia took control of the Zaporizhzhia plant in the opening days of the invasion. Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of attacking the plant, whose reactors were shut down following continuous shelling.
Gromov also charged Thursday that Russian forces may have staged explosions at residential buildings in the city of Kherson before retreating from the city “to inflict a critical damage to the infrastructure of the areas being reclaimed by Ukraine.”
The war in Ukraine and the resulting energy crisis is likely to cause global demand for fossil fuels to peak or flatten out, according to a report released Thursday by the Paris-based International Energy Agency, largely due to the fall in Russian exports.
“Today’s energy crisis is delivering a shock of unprecedented breadth and complexity,” the IEA said, releasing its annual report, the World Energy Outlook.
The blow to governments, the report said, was forcing the world’s more advanced economies to accelerate structural changes toward renewable energy sources.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine