World

Putin downplays nuclear threat in Ukraine as tens of thousands leave Kherson

Ukrainian forces attacked Russia's hold on the southern city of Kherson on Thursday while fighting also intensified in the country's east. The battles came amid reports that Moscow-appointed authorities in Kherson have abandoned the city, joining tens of thousands of residents who fled to other Russia-held areas.

Meanwhile, senior Russian official threatens to target satellites Ukraine has used for communications

Civilians evacuated from the city of Kherson, which Moscow claims to have annexed, gather at the railway station of the Crimean town of Dzhankoi for further evacuation, on Wednesday. (AFP/Getty Images)

Ukrainian forces attacked Russia's hold on the southern city of Kherson on Thursday while fighting also intensified in the country's east. The battles came amid reports that Moscow-appointed authorities in Kherson have abandoned the city, joining tens of thousands of residents who fled to other Russia-held areas.

Ukrainian forces were surrounding Kherson from the west and attacking Russia's foothold on the west bank of the Dnieper River, which divides the region and the country.

As the battles unfolded, Russian President Vladimir Putin sought to cast the conflict in Ukraine as part of efforts by the West to secure global domination.

Speaking at a conference of international policy experts in Moscow, Putin accused the U.S. and its allies of trying to dictate their terms to other nations in a "dangerous and bloody" domination game.

But Putin denied having any intentions of using nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

"We see no need for that," Putin said. "There is no point in that, neither political, nor military."

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Putin, who sent his troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24, reaffirmed his long-held claim that Russians and Ukrainians are part of a single people and again denigrated Ukraine as an "artificial state."

The Russian leader said the Kremlin isn't the enemy of the West but will continue to oppose the purported diktat of Western neoliberal elites, accusing them of trying to subdue Russia.

Infrastructure attacks

Ukraine has pushed ahead with an offensive to reclaim the Kherson region and its capital of the same name, which Russian forces captured during the first days of a war now in its ninth month.

More than 70,000 residents from the Kherson city area have evacuated in recent days, the region's Kremlin-installed governor, Vladimir Saldo, said on Thursday.

Members of the Russia-backed regional administration were included in the evacuation, the deputy governor, Kirill Stremousov, said.

Ukrainian firefighters work to put out a fire at energy infrastructure facilities damaged by a Russian drone strike, in a photo released Thursday from an undisclosed location. (State Emergency Service of Ukraine/Reuters)

Ukrainian forces were surrounding Kherson from the west and attacking Russia's foothold on the west bank of the Dnipro River, which divides the region and the country.

In eastern Ukraine, Russian forces continued to bombard the Donetsk region city of Bakhmut, making slow gains toward the centre.

As the heavy fighting continues in Ukraine, a Russian official warned that the West could become part of the conflict.

The deputy head of Russia's delegation at a United Nations arms control panel, Konstantin Vorontsov, described the use of U.S. and other Western commercial satellites for military purposes during the fighting in Ukraine as "extremely dangerous."

"The quasi-civilian infrastructure could be a legitimate target for a retaliatory strike," Vorontsov warned without elaborating.

Vorontsov did not mention any specific satellite companies, though Elon Musk's rocket company SpaceX has enabled Starlink internet service in Ukraine.

As they have all month, Russian forces carried out attacks on Ukraine's energy infrastructure that have caused increasing worry ahead of winter.

Another mass grave located 

Elsewhere, Ukrainian authorities reported that another mass grave was discovered in territory recently reclaimed from Russia. It contained up to 17 bodies of soldiers and civilians.

The Ukrainian Interior Ministry said in a statement that police found the grave outside the city of Izium after being tipped off by local residents.

The statement cited locals who said Russian troops dumped bodies in a pit outside the nearby village of Kopanky in mid-April, then levelled the ground with tanks.

In other developments, Ukrainian authorities said they were launching a criminal case against Russia's children's rights commissioner, accusing her of enabling the abduction and forced adoption of thousands of vulnerable Ukrainian children.

Maria Lvova-Belova said this week that she herself has adopted a boy seized by the Russian army in the bombed-out city of Mariupol.

Last month, she was sanctioned by the U.S., the U.K. and other Western nations over allegations that she masterminded the removal of more than 2,000 vulnerable children from the embattled Donetsk and Luhansk region in Ukraine's east. According to Ukraine, she also orchestrated a new policy to facilitate their forced placement with "foster families" in Russia.

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A Russian drone attack early Thursday hit an energy facility near the capital, causing a fire, said Kyiv region Gov. Oleksiy Kuleba. He said in a video statement that the latest attacks inflicted "very serious damage."

"The Russians are using drones and missiles to destroy Ukraine's energy system ahead of the winter and terrorize civilians," Kuleba said in televised remarks.

Kuleba announced new rolling blackouts and urged consumers to save power. He said authorities were still pondering over specifics of the blackouts needed to restore the damaged power facilities.

A local resident on Thursday removes things that can be salvaged from a property that was damaged after an overnight Russian attack in Kramatorsk. (Andriy Andriyenko/The Associated Press)

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of Ukraine's presidential office, said rolling blackouts would also be introduced in the neighbouring Chernihiv, Cherkasy and Zhytomyr regions.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said that Russian attacks have already destroyed 30 per cent of the country's energy infrastructure.

The war in Ukraine and the resulting energy crisis is likely to cause global demand for fossil fuels to peak or flatten out, according to a report released on Thursday by the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA), largely due to the fall in Russian exports.

"Today's energy crisis is delivering a shock of unprecedented breadth and complexity," the IEA said, releasing its annual report, the World Energy Outlook.

A burning building with two firefighters in front of it.
Firefighters work at the site of burning tanks after shelling of an oil depot by Ukrainian forces in Shakhtarsk, Donetsk, Eastern Ukraine, on Thursday. (The Associated Press)

Zelenskyy ended the day on an emotional note, pointing out in his nightly address to the nation that Ukraine on Friday marks the anniversary of its liberation from the Nazis during the Second World War. This year, he said, the holiday carries special significance.

"Evil always ends the same way. The occupier becomes a capitulator, the invader — a fugitive. War criminals become defendants. Aggression becomes a court verdict. Destruction turns into reparations. Enemy equipment becomes museum exhibits," Zelenskyy said.

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