Ukraine will start evacuating people who want to leave the country recently liberated southern city of Kherson and surrounding areas, the Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine Iryna Vereshchuk has announced damage to infrastructure by Russian troops which had made life extremely difficult for the residents.
News of the evacuation came as Russian missiles reportedly hit 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 pulled out more than a week ago.
Vereshchuk said on Saturday that a number of people had expressed a desire to move away from Kherson and the area around Mykolaiv, about 40 miles (65 km) to the northwest.
“This is possible in the coming days,” she told a televised press conference in Mykolaiv when asked when evacuations from Kherson would begin.
Vereshchuck said the government had already made the necessary preparations for the evacuation. Those who wanted to leave included the elderly and those affected by Russian shelling, she said.
“This is just a voluntary evacuation. At the moment we are not talking about forced evacuation,” said Vereshchuk.
“But even in the case of voluntary evacuation, the state bears the responsibility for transportation. People should be taken to the place where they will spend the winter,” she said.
The government had several options for evacuation, including using Mykolaiv as a transit point before sending people further west to 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 also face heating problems during Ukraine’s winter months.
Two rockets hit a fuel depot in Kherson on Saturday, firefighters on the scene told the Associated Press news organization.
Anton Gerashchenko, a government adviser and former deputy minister to Ukraine’s interior minister, posted a short video on Twitter apparently showing thick clouds of smoke after powerful explosions were reported in Kherson on Saturday.
“Russia continues its daily terror,” he wrote.
Local media reports powerful explosions in Kherson.
Russian shelling caused fire.
Russia continues its daily terror.
Kherson has just been liberated, there is still no water and electricity. Russia had added shelling to that. People have been through so much already. pic.twitter.com/wILWxYkdJO
— Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) November 19, 2022
Ukrainian authorities have accused Russian forces of destroying Kherson’s critical infrastructure before withdrawing earlier this month.
Local authorities also told the Associated Press that when Russian troops left the Kherson city area, they stole fire trucks and ambulances, and firefighters said they were now looking for resources to respond to missiles and other attacks.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other officials have accused Russia of trying to destabilize the country by an attempt to freeze the populace into submission and forcing millions of Ukrainians to flee to the west, creating a refugee crisis for the European Union.
Ukraine’s energy ministry said on Saturday that the country’s electricity supply was under control despite the ongoing spate of Russian attacks on power generation infrastructure.
Russian missile strikes have crippled nearly half of Ukraine’s energy system, and Kiev authorities said on Friday a complete shutdown of the capital’s power grid was possible.
“We assure you that the energy supply situation is difficult but under control,” the Ministry of Energy said in a statement.
Authorities across the country have planned power outages to ease repair efforts, the ministry said, urging families to reduce their energy use by at least 25 percent.
Maxim Timchenko, the head of DTEK, the country’s largest private energy company, said the armed forces, energy industry and individual Ukrainians were working wonders to keep supplies up and people should not flee the country.
“Therefore, there is no need to leave Ukraine today,” he said in a company statement on Saturday.
Also on Saturday, the first train in nine months to travel from Kiev to Kherson arrived in the city after leaving the Ukrainian capital on Friday evening – a journey made possible only by the Russian withdrawal.
According to Ukraine’s state railway network Ukrzaliznytsia, 200 passengers traveled aboard the train, dubbed the “Train to Victory,” which was painted in eclectic designs by Ukrainian artists. Tickets were sold as part of a fundraising campaign.