Authorities in Kherson, a Ukrainian oblast or province recently annexed by Russia, have ordered civilian evacuations in some areas in light of ongoing hostilities.
Kherson’s pro-Russia mayor Vladimir Saldo said on Tuesday, Oct. 18, that people in four towns would be moved away from the Dnieper river, given the risk that Ukrainian shelling could damage a nearby dam.
In a video statement, Saldo claimed that the Ukrainians would target the upstream Nova Kakhovka hydroelectric power station.
“The Ukrainian side is building up forces for a large-scale offensive,” he said. “There is an immediate danger of flooding… due to the planned destruction of the Kakhovka dam and the release of water from a cascade of power plants further up the Dnieper.”
Ukrainian forces have recently been attempting to retake Kherson, the city that shares the same name of the annexed province, and which is the largest urban area to have fallen to the Russians since the war began on Feb. 24, 2022.
In early October, the Kremlin accepted the absorption of Kherson, which lies in southern Ukraine, and three other provinces into the Russian Federation after what Kiev and the West blasted as sham referendums.
That came after successful Ukrainian offensives in the northeast of the country that saw the Russians pushed backed scores of kilometers and lose an important salient.
The Russian forces fighting in Kherson continue to struggle in the area as they await reinforcements.
Sergei Surovikin, the commander of all Russian troops in Ukraine, on Tuesday described the military situation in Ukraine as “tense”, especially in the Kherson region.
“The enemy continually attempts to attack the positions of Russian troops,” he told state-owned Rossiya 24 television news channel.
Under Surovikin’s command, Russian aerospace forces have conducted an intense strategic bombing campaign directed at knocking out Ukraine’s civil infrastructure, including power, heating, and transport.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin has called up 300,000 reservists to replenish the battle-weary professional soldiers in the field. Concentrations of Russian troops have been spotted in allied Belarus near Ukraine’s capital Kiev, leading to fears that Moscow could re-open that front.
In Mykolaiv, an important port city near Kherson, Reuters heard three explosions in the early hours of Tuesday. A missile completely destroyed one wing of a building in the downtown area, leaving a massive crater. A fire crew was seen pulling the dead body of a man from the rubble.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy wrote on Twitter that “Since Oct. 10, 30% of Ukraine’s power stations have been destroyed, causing massive blackouts across the country,” and added that Russia was continuing to try to terrorize and kill Ukrainian civilians.
Reuters contributed to this report.