Ukraine says Russian troops loot, occupy Kherson homes as battle looms

KYIV: Ukraine accused Russia on Monday of looting empty homes in the southern city of Kherson and occupying them with troops in civilian clothes to prepare for street fighting in what both sides predict will be one of the war’s most important battles.
In recent days Russia has ordered civilians out of Kherson in anticipation of a Ukrainian assault to recapture the city, the only regional capital Moscow has seized since its invasion in February.
Kherson, with a pre-war population of nearly 300,000, has been left cold and dark after power and water were cut to the surrounding area over the past 48 hours, both sides said.
Russian-installed officials blamed Ukrainian “sabotage” and said they were working to restore electricity. Ukrainian officials said the Russians had dismantled 1.5 km of power lines, and electricity probably would not return until Ukrainian forces recapture the area.
Kyiv has described the evacuation of the area as a forced deportation, a war crime. Moscow says it is sending residents away for safety.
The city lies in the only pocket of Russian-held territory on the west bank of the Dnipro River that bisects Ukraine. Recapturing it has been the main focus of Ukraine’s counter-offensive in the south which accelerated since the start of October.
The situation inside Kherson could not be independently confirmed. Ukrainian forces on the nearby frontline have told Reuters in recent days they expect a bitter fight against Russian troops, who cannot hold the city but are determined to exact a blood price before being forced out.
“While Kherson residents are being forcibly deported from their homes, talking about ‘evacuation’, ru-military and FSB officers are doing what they love most — robbing their houses,” Ukrainian presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted on Monday. “Robbery of those whom they came to ‘protect’ — the best ‘Russian world’ illustration.”
Ukraine’s military said in an overnight update that Russian forces, “disguised in civilian clothes, occupy the premises of civilians and strengthen positions inside for conducting street battles.” It also said Russian journalists were preparing to stage videos accusing Ukraine of hurting civilians.
Reuters was seeking comment from Russian authorities on the Ukrainian allegations.
Moscow sent thousands of troops to reinforce the area in recent months but has hinted in recent days that it could pull out. The deputy head of the Russian-installed administration, Kirill Stremousov, said last week Russia was likely to withdraw across the river, although there was silence from his higher-ups in Moscow.
Quiet for Monday
Elsewhere in Ukraine, Monday morning passed without a major volley of Russian missiles, a rare comparatively quiet start to the working week which had become synonymous across Ukraine with renewed Russian air strikes over the past month.
Russia has rained missiles down on Ukrainian civilian infrastructure targets, acknowledging its aim to destroy Ukraine’s energy system, with intensive strikes often coming during morning rush hour on Mondays since Oct. 10.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had warned Ukrainians overnight to be prepared for more strikes.
Ukraine’s grid operator told consumers to brace for more blackouts in Kyiv and other regions on Monday as it seeks to reduce the strain on energy infrastructure damaged by Russian missile and drone attacks.
Rolling blackouts are becoming routine in the capital of 3 million after the wave of Russian attacks on power facilities that have damaged 40% of energy infrastructure over the past month.
“The country’s power grid still cannot resume full operation after the Russian terrorist attacks. In some regions, we have to introduce blackouts to avoid overloading the high-voltage infrastructure,” the Ukrenergo grid operator said.
Scheduled shutdowns from 6 a.m. local time to the end of the day would affect Kyiv and the regions of Chernihiv, Cherkasy, Zhytomyr, Sumy, Kharkiv and Poltava, it said.
Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address that more than 4.5 million consumers were without power.
Both the White House and the Kremlin declined to comment on a report in the Wall Street Journal that U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan had held talks with aides to Russian President Vladimir Putin, aiming to reduce the risk that the war in Ukraine spills over or escalates into nuclear conflict.
The Wall Street Journal report followed one in the Washington Post that U.S. officials had privately encouraged Kyiv to show a willingness to negotiate with Russia to retain international support.
Zelenskiy has decreed that Ukraine cannot negotiate with Russia as long as Putin is president, after Putin announced the annexation of Ukrainian territory at the end of September. Moscow blames Ukraine for the absence of peace talks, but also says it will not negotiate over its claims to annexed Ukrainian lands.

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