KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian troops moved large numbers of sick and wounded comrades from hospitals in southern Ukraine’s Kherson region, Ukrainian military officials reported Saturday as their forces fought to retake a province overrun by invading soldiers early in the war.
Kremlin-installed authorities in the mostly Russian-occupied region previously urged civilians to leave the city of Kherson, the region’s capital. The Moscow-appointed authorities in Kherson also were reported to have abandoned the city, joining tens of thousands of residents who fled to other Russia-held areas ahead of an expected advance by Ukrainian forces.
“The so-called evacuation of invaders from the temporarily occupied territory of the Kherson region, including from medical institutions, continues,” the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in a morning update. “All equipment and medicines are being removed from Kherson hospitals,” the update said.
The military’s claims could not be independently verified. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a nightly video address Friday that the Russians were “dismantling the entire health care system” in Kherson and other occupied areas.
“The occupiers have decided to close medical institutions in the cities, take away equipment, ambulances. just everything,” Zelenskyy said. “They put pressure on the doctors who still remained in the occupied areas for them to move to the territory of Russia.”
Kherson is one of four regions of Ukraine that Russian President Vladimir Putin illegally annexed last month and where he subsequently declared martial law. The others are Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia.
As Kyiv’s forces sought gains in the south, Russia kept up shelling and missile attacks in the country’s east, Ukrainian authorities said Saturday. Three civilians died in the last day and eight more were wounded in the Donetsk region, which has again become a front-line hotspot as Russian soldiers try to capture the city of Bakhmut.
Western analysts have long identified Bakhmut as an important target in Russia’s stalled eastern offensive. Capturing Bakhmut would pave the way for Moscow’s forces to threaten Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, the two largest Ukrainian-held cities remaining in the long-embattled Donbas region.
Donetsk and neighboring Luhansk province make up the Donbas. Pro-Russia separatists have controlled parts of both provinces since 2014.
In the northeastern Kharkiv region, where Russia’s troops retreated last month and Ukrainian troops clawed back broad swaths of territory, Russian shelling overnight wounded three civilians, according to the region’s Ukrainian governor.
Gov. Oleh Sinehubov wrote on Telegram said that two women in their 40s and a 60-year-old man were wounded near Kupiansk, a town that served as a resupply hub for Russian forces in the region before Ukrainian troops regained control.
A Russian shelling attack Saturday also hit “critical infrastructure” in Ukraine’s southern Zaporizhzhia region, the Ukrainian governor of the illegally annexed province said. Around a quarter of the region, including the local capital, also called Zaporizhzhia, remains under Ukrainian military control.
Writing on Telegram, Gov. Oleksandr Starukh said the damage was being assessed. He did not specify what was struck and did not mention any casualties.
Separately, Kremlin-installed authorities in Crimea on Saturday reported a drone attack on Sevastopol, the largest city on the peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014.
“The ships of (Russia’s) Black Sea Fleet are repelling a drone attack in the waters of the Sevastopol Bay,” the Russia-appointed governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhaev, wrote on Telegram. He didn’t immediately assign blame for the attack.
Last month, Ukraine’s army chief claimed responsibility for a series of missile and drone strikes on Russian airbases in Crimea, including one that tore through a military facility. Both Kyiv and Moscow have said that Ukrainian partisans are active in the area.
Political pressure for efforts to negotiate an end to the war are building in parts of western Europe. Zelenskyy had said his country won’t negotiate with Russia as long as Moscow insists the annexed regions are Russian territory.
In remarks to Yale University students on Friday, the Ukrainian leader reiterated his unwillingness to negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government because of its “disrespect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”
In his nightly remarks, the Ukrainian leader noted that about 4 million Ukrainians live in areas subject to rolling blackouts following weeks of Russia targeting power plants and other infrastructure. He warned the emergency blackouts were possible elsewhere in Ukraine.
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