KYIV, Ukraine — Russian troops moved large numbers of sick and wounded comrades from hospitals in Ukraine’s southern Kherson region and stripped the facilities of medical equipment, 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 had previously urged civilians to leave the city of Kherson, the region’s capital – and reportedly joined the tens of thousands of residents who fled to other Russia-held areas ahead of an expected Ukrainian advance.
“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 an update. “All equipment and medicines are being removed from Kherson hospitals.”
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 in Ukraine that Russian President Vladimir Putin illegally annexed last month and where he subsequently declared martial law. The others are Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia.
Elsewhere on Saturday, at least one Russian ship suffered damage in a major port in Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula annexed by Moscow in 2014. Ukraine and Russia offered different versions of what happened and who was to blame.
The Russian Defense Ministry said a minesweeper had “minor damage” during an alleged pre-dawn Ukrainian attack on navy and civilian vessels docked in Sevastopol. The city, Crimea’s largest, hosts the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.
The ministry said Russian forces had “repelled” 16 attacking drones. Earlier Saturday, the Kremlin-installed governor of Sevastopol reported an “ongoing” drone attack.
An adviser to Ukraine’s Interior Ministry gave a different account, claiming that the “careless handling of explosives” had caused blasts on four warships in Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. Anton Gerashchenko wrote on Telegram that the vessels included a frigate, a landing ship and a ship that carried cruise missiles used in a deadly July attack on a western Ukrainian city.
Neither side’s claim could be immediately verified.
As Kyiv’s forces sought gains in the south, Russia kept up its shelling and missile attacks in the country’s east, Ukrainian authorities said Saturday. Three more civilians died 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, one that 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, the region’s Ukrainian governor said.
Gov. Oleh Syniehubov 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 before Ukrainian troops regained control.
In neighboring Luhansk province, Gov. Serhii Haidai said that Ukrainian forces have shelled the entire length of the Kreminna-Svatove highway, where the Russians set up their main line of defense after their withdrawal from the Kharkiv region.
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 later said an industrial building was struck and there were no casualties.
In the latest swap, 52 Ukrainians, including two former defenders of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, were released Saturday as part of a prisoner exchange with Russia, according to Andriy Yermak, a senior official at Ukraine’s presidential office. The steelworks in that bombed-out port city now symbolize Ukrainian resistance.
Among those released were the head of the surgical department of the military hospital at Mariupol, who was at Azovstal, and a young military surgeon, Yermak said.
Also released, he said, was a sailor who defended Ukraine’s Snake Island, a strategic Black Sea outpost seized by Russia in the opening hours of the war. Others coming home were Ukrainian soldiers captured by Moscow near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant – the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986 – which Russian forces briefly occupied from February to March.
There were fresh claims and counterclaims by Russia and the West about who damaged the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines last month that run under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov accused British Navy personnel of sabotaging critical Russian energy infrastructure – a claim Britain’s Defense Ministry fully denied.
“To detract from their disastrous handling of the illegal invasion of Ukraine, the Russian Ministry of Defense is resorting to pedaling false claims of an epic scale,” Britain said in a statement.
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 that the annexed regions are Russian territory.
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