Russia shells liberated city in Ukraine, forcing hospital evacuations

Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Images North America/TNS

Escalated Russian shelling of the recently liberated Ukrainian city of Kherson killed 10 people, wounded dozens more and forced hospital evacuations, the Ukrainian government said Friday.

Kherson, the only regional capital captured by Russia in its nine-month-old war on its neighbor, has faced President Vladimir Putin’s wrath since Ukrainian soldiers recovered the city two weeks ago.

The intensified shelling in recent days has taken a growing toll on the southern Ukrainian city, forcing officials to relocate children from a pediatric medical facility to the nearby city of Mykolaiv, said Yaroslav Yanushevych, governor of Kherson.

On Friday, Yanushevych said on Telegram that two residential Kherson neighborhoods faced “massive enemy artillery fire” and that 54 people were wounded in Russian attacks during the previous day.

Authorities were also in the process of evacuating 100 people from a psychiatric care facility, Yanushevych said. Those patients were headed to another city in Ukraine’s south, Odessa.

Lilia Kristenko, 38, whose parents died when their Kherson home came under fire Thursday evening, told The Associated Press that “Russians took the two most precious people from me.”

Videos published by the AP showed health care workers in Kherson working without power in a hospital.

“Almost every hour, I receive reports of strikes by the occupiers at Kherson,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine said in a Thursday address to his nation.

“This is the revenge of those who lost,” he said. “They do not know how to fight. The only thing they can still do is terrorize.”

Zelenskyy spoke Friday with the European Commission’s president, Ursula von der Leyen, who issued a statement expressing “full solidarity with Ukraine as it suffers at the hands of Putin’s deliberate and barbaric bombing.”

“Russia must be held accountable for what constitute war crimes,” she said in the statement. “We are intensifying our efforts and working with partners to provide the emergency support Ukraine needs.”

Residents in Kherson, which had a prewar population of around 280,000, proved defiant after the Russian Army seized the area on March 2, less than a week into Europe’s largest military conflict since World War II.

Locals there took to the streets to protest the Russian occupation, and unnerved occupying troops were said to have mostly stayed on the city’s edges. A Russian propaganda campaign aimed at assimilating the city failed.

In September, Putin signed sham treaties nominally annexing four provinces in southern and eastern Ukraine, an area that included Kherson.

Putin backed the move through bogus referendums overseen by Russian soldiers, and paired the illegal annexation with thinly veiled threats about a nuclear response to efforts to battle for the region.

Undeterred, the Ukrainian military swept into Kherson on Nov. 11.

The loss of the prized city came as a humbling blow for Putin, who has sought to establish a bridge of Kremlin-controlled territory connecting Russia with Crimea, the peninsula on Ukraine’s south that Russia seized in 2014.

The Russian retreat crucially came ahead of the winter months, when battle lines are expected to be cemented by snowy weather. Russian forces have lost about half of the territory they claimed after launching the invasion on Feb. 24.

Putin, who had designs last winter for a swift capture of the capital of Kyiv, in the north, instead has seen his army suffer one battlefield rout after another from Ukrainian forces.

Unable to take out Ukraine’s military — which is aided by arms from the U.S. and other nations — the Russian Army has resorted to pummeling Ukrainian cities through the air. A Wednesday wave of missiles decimated Ukraine’s electrical grid, plunging Kyiv and other cities into darkness.

Two-thirds of the homes in chilly, snow-coated Kyiv still lacked heat on Friday, and half lacked electricity, said Mayor Vitali Klitschko. Citizens there have headed into the chilly subway system to charge their phones.

Klitschko said the city had opened 400 heating spaces, stationing them in schools and similar spaces. Running water, which had been stalled by the attacks, was back, the mayor added.

“If there is no electricity supply in your house for more than a day,” Klitschko wrote on Telegram, “you can come to the heating station to charge your gadgets or flashlights, have some tea, and find out information about the nearby water pumping stations and open shops and pharmacies.”

In his Thursday address, Zelenskyy sought to encourage his beleaguered country, emphasizing Russian failures and noting that the power grid was gradually being fixed.

“Thank you to everyone who fights and works for our country,” Zelenskyy said. “We endured nine months of the full-scale war and Russia hasn’t found a way to break us. And it will not find it. We must continue to hold on.”