Russia strikes Ukrainian houses, evacuates Kherson and warns of escalation

A view of the village, located on the border of the Kherson region where control has once again been taken over by Ukrainian forces, as Ukrainian soldiers patrol around the site amid Ukraine’s counterattack on the forces forces in southern Kherson region, violent clashes continue between the two sides in the city of Kherson, located in Kherson oblast, Ukraine, on October 07, 2022.

Metin Aktas | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Under pressure in southern Ukraine, Russia fired missiles and drones on Ukrainian-held Mykolaiv on Sunday, destroying an apartment building in the shipbuilding town near the front and said the war was heading towards “an uncontrolled escalation”.

Mykolaiv is about 35 km (22 miles) northwest of the front line in occupied Kherson, the southern region where Russia has ordered 60,000 people to ‘save your lives’ and flee a counter-offensive Ukrainian.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, whom some Russian nationalists have blamed for Moscow’s setbacks since the February 24 invasion, spoke of the “rapidly deteriorating situation” in calls with his French and Turkish counterparts, the ministry said.

Without providing evidence, Shoigu said Ukraine could escalate with a “dirty bomb” – conventional explosives mixed with radioactive materials. Ukraine does not possess nuclear weapons, while Russia has declared that it could protect Russian territory with its nuclear arsenal.

A Russian missile strike destroyed the top floor of a building in Mykolaiv on Sunday, sending shrapnel and debris into a square and nearby buildings, smashing windows and cracked walls. Cars were crushed under the rubble, Reuters found. No deaths were recorded.

“After the first explosion, I tried to get out, but the door was jammed. After a minute or two, there was a second loud explosion. Our door was blown into the hallway,” said Oleksandr Mezinov, 50 years, who was awakened from his bed by the explosions.

Ukraine shot down 14 Russian “kamikaze” drones over Mykolaiv overnight, regional governor Vitaliy Kim said on Telegram. The drones are designed to explode on impact and have hammered Ukraine’s energy infrastructure this month.

Kim said Russia also attacked with S-300 missiles, one of which hit the five-story building.

Escalation of attacks

Russian troops have withdrawn from parts of the front in recent weeks and occupation authorities are evacuating civilians deeper into Russian-held territory ahead of an expected battle for Kherson, the regional capital on the west bank of the Dnipro. Kherson is a gateway to Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.

“The situation today is difficult. It is vital to save your lives,” Russian Education Minister Sergei Kravtsov said in a video message. “It won’t be for long. You will definitely come back,” he added.

One man was killed and three injured after an explosion in the city, a Russian news agency said. Emergency services said an improvised explosive device had detonated near a car in the town.

Russian-installed authorities reported a shortage of ships to ferry people up the river at some point on Sunday, blaming a “sharp increase in the number of people wanting to leave”.

About 25,000 people have been evacuated since Tuesday, the Interfax news agency said.

The Ukrainian army said it was advancing south, taking control of at least two villages it said Russia had abandoned.

Reuters could not independently verify the accounts.

Ukraine’s advances in recent weeks around Kherson and in the northeast of the country have been met with an intensification of Russian missile and drone attacks on civilian infrastructure, which destroyed around 40% of Ukraine’s electricity system before Winter.

Winter misery looms

Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of planning to blow up the Nova Kakhovka Dam, which holds about as much water as the Great Salt Lake in the US state of Utah. Violating it could flood part of southern Ukraine, including Kherson.

Neither side has produced evidence to back up its claims about the dam, which supplies water to Crimea and Russia’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

In another setback for Moscow, a Russian military plane crashed into a residential building in the Siberian city of Irkutsk in Russia’s far east on Sunday, killing both pilots, the second fatal incident in six days involving a Sukhoi fighter jet.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russian attacks on energy infrastructure hit on a “very large” scale. He promised that his army would improve its already good record of missile destruction with the help of its partners.

As the war is about to enter its ninth month and winter approaches, the potential for freezing misery looms.

More than a million people were without power, presidential adviser Kyrylo Tymoshenko said. A city official said the strikes could leave Kyiv without electricity or heating for days or weeks.

Moscow has admitted targeting energy infrastructure, but denies targeting civilians in what Moscow calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine.

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