- Kyiv: Russia withdraws some troops from Oleshky, neighboring towns
- Ukrainian embassy in Spain hit by letter bomb
- Intense trench warfare in the east as winter sets in
KYIV, Dec 1 (Reuters) – Ukraine’s military said on Thursday that Russia had withdrawn troops from towns on the opposite bank of the Dnipro from the city of Kherson, the first official Ukrainian report of a Russian withdrawal on what is now the main front line in the south.
The statement gave only limited details and did not mention any Ukrainian forces crossing the Dnipro. Ukrainian officials also pointed out that Russia had intensified shelling across the river, again cutting off electricity in Kherson where electricity only began to be restored nearly three weeks after Russian troops had left the city and fled to the other side of the river.
Since Russia abandoned Kherson last month, nine months after its invasion of Ukraine, the river now forms the entire southern stretch of the front.
Russia has already told civilians to leave towns within 15 km of the river and has withdrawn its civil administration from the town of Nova Kakhovska on the river bank. Ukrainian officials have previously said Russia has withdrawn some of the artillery near the river to safer positions further out, but so far has refrained from saying Russian forces are leaving the towns.
“A decrease in the number of Russian soldiers and military equipment is observed in the settlement of Oleshky,” the army said, referring to the town opposite the city of Kherson, on the other side of a destroyed bridge over the Dnipro.
“Enemy troops were withdrawn from some settlements in Kherson Oblast and dispersed in forest strips along the Oleshky – Hola Prystan highway section,” he said, referring to a stretch of road of 25 km (15 miles) through scattered riverside towns. in the woods on the shore opposite the city of Kherson.
He said most of the Russian troops in the region were recently mobilized reservists, suggesting that Moscow’s best-trained professional troops had already left the region.
Reuters could not independently confirm the report.
Separately, Ukraine on Thursday tightened security at its diplomatic missions around the world after a mail bomb exploded at its embassy in Madrid, one of several devices sent to targets in Spain, including the prime minister. Pedro Sanchez.
Ambassador Serhii Pohoreltsev told Ukrainian news site European Pravda that the suspicious package addressed to him was opened outside the building by the Ukrainian commander of the embassy, who was injured in the blast.
“After opening the box and hearing a click that followed, he threw it away and then heard the explosion,” he said. “Even though he was not holding the box at the time of the explosion, the commander injured his hands and suffered a concussion.”
The war in Ukraine is entering a relentless new phase with the onset of the first winter since the February 24 Russian invasion.
After retreating south in November, Moscow concentrated its firepower on a section of the eastern front line near the town of Bakhmut, where hundreds of soldiers are believed to be dying every day in some of the bloodiest fighting in the conflict, yielding little territory gains on either side.
The Ukrainian Armed Forces reported heavy shelling of a number of frontline towns in the region.
“We are analyzing the occupiers’ intentions and preparing countermeasures – tougher countermeasures than is currently the case,” President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a televised address overnight.
Denis Pushilin, head of the Russian-installed administration in occupied parts of Donetsk province, said a prisoner swap was due to take place later Thursday, with the sides releasing 50 prisoners each.
There are no ongoing political talks to end the war, which Russia launched as a ‘special military operation’ saying its aim was to disarm its neighbor and root out leaders it calls dangerous nationalists. Kyiv and the West call it an imperialist land grab that has killed tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians and soldiers on both sides.
Since early October, Russia has also launched near-weekly massive missile and drone attacks across Ukraine to cut off its power, water and heat, which Kyiv and the West say is intended to harm to civilians, a war crime.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov defended the strikes on Thursday, saying Moscow was targeting Ukrainian civilian infrastructure to prevent Kyiv from importing Western weapons. He did not explain how such attacks could achieve this goal.
“We are disabling energy facilities (in Ukraine) that allow you (the West) to inject lethal weapons into Ukraine to kill Russians,” Lavrov said.
The European Union this week called for a special tribunal to prosecute Russian officials accused of aggression, the war crime of attacking another state without justification. The Kremlin rejected it on Thursday.
“As for the attempts to establish some kind of court: they will have no legitimacy, will not be accepted by us and we will condemn them,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a conference call with journalists.
Ukraine’s nuclear company said on Thursday it had sacked a senior engineer at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant for collaborating with Russia, a day after Moscow announced that the engineer, Yuriy Chernichuk, had been promoted to the post of new boss of the central.
In October, Russia said it was taking control of the plant, which is located in Russian-held territory along the Dnipro but still operated by Ukrainian engineers. Kyiv says the plant is still owned by Ukraine and the seizure by Russia is illegal.
Reports from Reuters offices; written by Stephen Coates and Peter Graff; edited by Mark Heinrich
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