Donetsk battles are ‘hell’, says Ukrainian Zelenskiy as Kherson cleans up

  • Key infrastructure in Kherson destroyed, says Zelenskiy
  • Russia and Iran pledge to deepen economic, political and trade relations
  • Kherson faces serious humanitarian situation, city mayor says

Nov 13 (Reuters) – Russian forces destroyed key infrastructure in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson before fleeing, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said, as his Russian and Iranian counterparts committed to deepening economic, political and trade ties.

Zelenskiy described hellish battles in the eastern region of Donetsk, where pro-Moscow forces were fighting a much tougher fight after Russia on Friday abandoned the only regional capital it had captured since the war began in february.

Jubilant residents of Kherson welcomed the arrival of the troops as Zelenskiy said authorities, in their effort to stabilize the region, had dealt with nearly 2,000 mines, tripwires and unexploded shells left behind by the Russians at the start .

Russians “everywhere have the same goal: to humiliate people as much as possible. But we will restore everything, believe me,” Zelenskiy said in a video address on Saturday.

“Before fleeing Kherson, the occupants destroyed all critical infrastructure: communications, water, heating, electricity.

Ukraine’s success in Kherson, where its troops now control more than 60 regional settlements, as well as in other places, benefited in part from resistance in the Donetsk region, despite repeated Russian attacks, Zelenskiy added. .

“It’s just hell out there – there are extremely fierce battles going on there every day,” he said. “But our units defend themselves courageously – they resist the terrible pressure of the invaders, preserving our lines of defense.”

During a phone call, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi emphasized “strengthening cooperation in the political, trade and economic spheres, including the transport and logistics sector”, the Kremlin said on Saturday.

Russia stepped up its efforts to establish ties with Iran and other non-Western countries during the war, with a senior Russian security official having met Iranian leaders Wednesday in Tehran.

The visit follows accusations from Ukraine and the West that Russia used Iranian drones to target Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.

Iran says it sent Russia a small number of drones before the war started. Last month, two senior Iranian officials and two Iranian diplomats told Reuters that Iran had promised to supply Russia with surface-to-surface missiles.

But Ukraine will decide on the timing and content of any framework for negotiations with Russia, according to the minutes of a meeting on Saturday between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in Phnom Penh.

The Washington Post reported a week ago that the Biden administration was privately encouraging Ukrainian leaders to signal an opening to negotiate with Russia and drop their public refusal to engage in peace talks unless Putin is removed from power.

Moscow describes its action in Ukraine as a “special military operation” aimed at demilitarizing and “denazifying” its small neighbor. Kyiv and its allies say Russia’s invasion, which has killed tens of thousands and uprooted millions, was unprovoked and illegal.

“TWENTY YEARS YOUNGER”

On the road to Kherson, villagers holding flowers waited on Saturday to greet and kiss Ukrainian soldiers poured in to secure control of the right bank of the Dnipro River after the stunning Russian retreat.

“We have looked 20 years younger in the last two days,” Valentyna Buhailova, 61, said just before a Ukrainian soldier jumped out of a small truck and hugged her and her partner Nataliya Porkhunuk, 66. , in a hamlet near the center of Kherson.

But volleys of artillery fire surrounded the international airport and police said they were setting up checkpoints in and around the city and searching for mines left behind.

The mayor said the humanitarian situation was “serious” due to lack of water, medicine and bread, as residents celebrated their release in what Zelenskiy called a “historic day“.

“The city is suffering from a critical shortage, mainly of water,” Mayor Roman Holovnia said on television. “There are currently not enough medicines, not enough bread because we cannot bake it: there is no electricity.”

Renowned graffiti artist Banksy unveiled on Instagram a mural of a gymnast doing a headstand on a small pile of concrete rubble in the Ukrainian town of Borodyanka, which had been occupied by Russia until April and heavily damaged when the fighting began.

“It’s such a historic moment for our country that people like Banksy and other famous people come here and show the world what Russia has done to us,” said Alina Mazur, 31, who has led 60 km (40 miles) from Kyiv, the capital, for an overview.

But the road to Kherson from Mykolaiv was lined with fields marked by miles of abandoned Russian trenches. A destroyed T72 tank lay with its turret overturned.

The abandoned trenches were littered with rubbish, blankets and camouflage netting. An irrigation ditch was filled with discarded Russian equipment and several anti-tank mines were visible on the side of the road.

Residents of the village of Kiselivka said the Russians left on Wednesday evening.

“They didn’t fire any shots,” said Hyhory Kulyaka, 54, who arrived on a scooter. “They were just gone.”

Reporting by David Ljjungren, Jonathan Landay and Gleb Garanich; Written by Clarence Fernandez; Editing by William Mallard

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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