The Ukrainian government is preparing to help evacuate residents from two cities where shattered electricity and heating infrastructure has raised fears of a humanitarian crisis when winter sets in, officials said over the weekend.
But even as planning for the evacuations from the southern cities of Kherson and Mykolaiv was beginning, still more immediate concerns arose on Sunday when at least a dozen shells exploded at a major nuclear plant in the same region.
The country’s prosecutor-general reported on Sunday that some 437 children were now believed to be among the more than 8,300 civilians killed since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began in February.
With reliable information from Russian-occupied areas scarce, the true death toll is likely to be far higher, said Andriy Kostin, the prosecutor-general. More than 11,000 civilians have been injured, he said.
With Russia’s unrelenting bombardment of critical infrastructure, officials across the country are worried about how to help Ukrainians fare in a winter when obtaining even the most basic necessities may be a struggle.
But in Kherson, where Ukrainian soldiers found a crippled city when they pushed the Russian occupiers out just over a week ago, the authorities say that for many residents, the only solution may be to leave.
With supplies of running water, heat and electricity precarious in the newly liberated city, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, Iryna Vereshchuk, said that in the next few days the government would begin helping people who wish to leave.
But she emphasized that residents will make their own decisions on whether to stay.
In the days since Russian forces retreated from Kherson and Ukrainian forces swept into the city, the government has scrambled to assess the humanitarian situation and rebuild vital infrastructure.
As temperatures begin to plunge, the first traces of power have reappeared in the city in recent days.
Speaking on Saturday in the port city of Mykolaiv, about 64km to the north-west of Kherson, Vereshchuk said the government would also help residents there evacuate.
Mykolaiv is a frequent target of Russian missile strikes, and residents of both cities have asked to be moved to safer areas, she said.