Ukraine ‘liberates’ more villages in Kherson as Russia’s annexation map shrinks

Ukraine says its army has recaptured more settlements in Kherson, one of the four Russian-occupied regions annexed by the Kremlin.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the villages of Novovoskresenske, Novohryhorivka and Petropavlivka to the northeast of Kherson city had been “liberated”.

It came after Russian president Vladimir Putin signed constitutional decrees on Wednesday to formally annex the four Ukrainian regions of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.

Thousands of Russian troops have retreated from front lines in the south and east since September following Ukraine’s military counter-offensive.

In his nightly address, Zelenskyy spoke briefly in Russian to address pro-Kremlin forces, telling them they had already lost the war.

“Ukrainians know what they are fighting for. And more and more citizens of Russia are realizing that they must die simply because one person does not want to end the war,” he said in a reference to Putin.

Moscow’s map of Ukraine appears to show shrinking areas it controls.

A map of “new regions” published by state news agency RIA included the full territory of the Ukrainian provinces but some parts were labeled as being under Ukrainian military control.

Overnight, seven Russian missiles hit the city of Zaporizhzhia, damaging several buildings and causing injuries, regional governor Oleksandr Starukh said.

Russia’s president said troops will “stabilise” the situation in the four annexed Ukrainian regions.

“We proceed from the fact that the situation will be stabilized, we will be able to calmly develop these territories,” Putin said.

Putin signed a decree on Wednesday to annex the regions. The new law would incorporate about 18% of Ukraine’s territory into Russia.

Russia’s move to annex the regions raises the possibility of an escalation in the war, as Putin and other officials have said they could use nuclear weapons to protect Russian territory including the annexed provinces.

Ukraine has said it will not be cowed by any nuclear threats.

At the United Nations, Russia is lobbying for a secret ballot instead of a public vote next week when the 193-member U.N. General Assembly considers whether to condemn its annexation of the regions.

Putin celebrated the annexations last week only hours before Ukrainian forces recaptured Lyman, Russia’s main bastion in the northern part of Donetsk.

On Wednesday, the bodies of two Russian soldiers were still lying bloating in trees on opposite sides of a road near Lyman, close to the blasted hulks of cars and a van.

Occasional crumps echoed from distant fighting as Ukrainian troops advanced toward a north-south highway that serves as one of the last supply routes for Russian forces in Luhansk province.

In Lyman, Nina, 73, stood waiting for an aid delivery by a municipal building. There were 15 bodies of Russian soldiers lying in her street, she said.

“Nobody removes them. It’s the fifth day they are lying there. And we have the smell,” she said.

In one of his first moves to assert his rule over the four annexed provinces, Putin ordered the Russian state to seize control of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station — Europe’s largest — which is still run by Ukrainian engineers despite being captured early in the war by Russian forces.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, said it had learned of plans to restart one reactor at the plant, where all six reactors have been shut down for weeks.

The power station is right on the front line, on a Russian-controlled bank of a reservoir with Ukrainian forces on the opposite bank, and both sides have warned of the danger of a nuclear disaster.

In recent days, Russia detained the plant’s Ukrainian manager. He was released but will not return to work. The head of Ukraine’s state nuclear energy company Energoatom, Petro Kotin, said he was taking charge of the plant and urged workers not to sign any documents with its Russian occupiers.

Kyiv has long accused Moscow of planning to switch the plant from Ukraine’s power grid to Russia’s, which it says would increase the risk of an accident.

IAEA head Rafael Grossi, who is due to visit Kyiv and Moscow this week, said negotiations on a safe zone around the plant were more important than ever.

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