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Kherson Evacuates Hospitals Under Relentless Russian Shelling

KYIV — As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine entered its 10th month, Russian artillery pounded the strategic southern port city of Kherson two weeks after retreating from it, killing at least 10 civilians and wounding dozens more — and on Friday, triggering a hospital evacuation.

Russian forces shelled the city and surrounding area 49 times on Thursday and Friday, the head of the Kherson regional military administration, Yaroslav Yanushevych, said. Thursday was one of the deadliest days since the Kremlin ordered its forces to retreat.

“Due to constant Russian shelling, we are evacuating hospital patients from Kherson,” Mr. Yanushevych said. Pediatric patients were transferred to Mykolaiv, he said, while 100 patients from the regional psychiatric care facility were moved to Odesa.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said in his nightly address late Thursday that Russia had begun shelling as “revenge” after Ukrainian troops reclaimed the city.

“Almost every hour, I receive reports of strikes” in the Kherson region, Mr. Zelensky said. “Such terror began immediately after the Russian Army was forced to flee from the Kherson region. This is the revenge of those who lost.”

A Russian strike in Kherson shipyards on Thursday.Credit…Chris Mcgrath/Getty Images

Several more civilians, including a 13-year-old boy, were killed in blasts this week.

Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February, more than 6,557 civilians have died and about 10,000 others have been wounded, according to a report last week by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The true toll is thought to be significantly higher.

March was the deadliest month of the war so far.

And over the past month, as Russia has assumed defensive positions in the face of Ukrainian advances in the south and northeast, Moscow has escalated its aerial bombardment of energy infrastructure targets in cities and towns across Ukraine.

“Together, we endured nine months of full-scale war, and Russia has not found a way to break us, and will not find one,” Mr. Zelensky said.

Ukrainian officials have encouraged people in the Kherson area to leave for other parts of the country and have started running trains to and from the city to bring humanitarian relief.

But Serhii Khlan, the deputy regional administrator in Kherson, said many of the 80,000 who remain do not want to leave their homes despite the hardships.

“They say: ‘We were living eight and a half months of occupation here, we survived,’” he said. “We’ll survive, everything will get better. We will stay in our homes.”

Kherson remains without heat and electricity after departing Russian soldiers blew up much of the region’s critical infrastructure.

Lining up for water from a well, in Kherson on Thursday.Credit…Roman Pilipey/EPA, via Shutterstock

Elsewhere in the country officials have been racing to restore energy infrastructure destroyed in waves of Russian missile attacks, including on three nuclear plants under Ukrainian control. All three plants were back online by Friday and would soon be producing energy at normal capacity, the head of the national energy utility said, two days after Russian attacks forced utility crews to scramble to stabilize the country’s crippled energy grid, and raised further concerns about the nuclear perils of the war.

Ukraine typically relies on nuclear power for more than half of its electricity, an uncommonly high rate of dependence.

In Russia, where there is a growing outcry over the mobilization of untrained young men who are perishing on the front lines in Ukraine, President Vladimir V. Putin presided over a highly choreographed event at his residence outside Moscow, where he met with mothers of servicemen fighting in Ukraine and said he shares their pain.

The televised event, just days before the country marks its Mother’s Day on Sunday, came amid intensifying public criticism over the conditions recent Russian conscripts have been forced to bear, including being thrown into combat ill-equipped and ill-prepared. Some of the 17 women who attended said they had lost their sons on the battlefield.

Ukrainians firing rockets at Russian positions near Bakhmut on Thursday.Credit…Libkos/Associated Press

Since Mr. Putin announced a national draft in September, social-media networks in Russia have been filled with videos said to be recorded by soldiers and their relatives describing dire conditions, organizational chaos, mistreatment and threats of imprisonment if they protest.

Activists said participants in the meeting Friday were likely preselected by the Kremlin and had their questions screened beforehand. Some appeared to be government officials and pro-government activists, according to a list published by the Kremlin.

Olga Tsukanova, leader of the Council of Mothers and Wives, a prominent grass-roots organization of the relatives of Russian serviceman, said no representatives of the group were invited to meet Mr. Putin on Friday, despite having requested an audience.

“Who is our president? Is he a man or something else, who is running away from women behind the backs of special services?” Ms. Tsukanova said in a statement on Friday, adding that she and some members of the group have been under surveillance.

The mothers of Russian troops have traditionally played a powerful role in society. In the 1980s, the first real signs of opposition to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan came from soldiers’ mothers. And during the 1994-96 war in Chechnya, mothers became one of the most powerful symbols of public dissent against the conflict. But protests over the war in Ukraine have been more muted, most likely because of a harsher climate for dissent.

A photograph released by Russian state media showing President Vladimir V. Putin meeting with mothers of Russian soldiers at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence, outside of Moscow, on Friday.Credit…Pool photo by Alexander Shcherbak

In Ukraine, the first reports of casualties among newly mobilized men came less than three weeks after the draft was announced in September. Mr. Putin nevertheless urged the women attending the meeting on Friday not to trust the news media and the internet, which he said were full of “fakes, deception and lies.”

For many apolitical Russians, however, the loss of husbands and sons amid reports from loved ones of low morale and poor training and equipment has brought the reality of the war into their homes after months of denial. In some cases, relatives have had to supply the ill-equipped conscripts with everything from socks to drones. Many have been unable to reach relatives for weeks, anxiously waiting for news.

On Sunday, Ms. Tsukanova’s organization held a news conference in Moscow where many soldiers’ relatives had a chance to tell their stories.

“They have humiliated, deceived and bullied us, so women, we have nothing to be afraid of,” said Ms. Tsukanova, whose son was drafted into the army before the September mobilization and forced to serve at the border with Ukraine with little prior training.

Yelena Kalimysheva said her brother was thrown into battle without any supplies or means of communication, without commanders in the field.

“They were hit by mortar fire,” and were forced to surrender, Ms. Kalimysheva said. “Why,” she asked, “after one week of training, were they thrown into the woods and left there to die?”

In Kyiv on Thursday.Credit…Bulent Kilic/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Marc Santora reported from Kyiv, Ukraine, and Ivan Nechepurenko from Tbilis, Georgia. Matina Stevis-Gridneff contributed reporting from Brussels, and Victoria Kim from Seoul.

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