KYIV, Ukraine — Hospital patients were being evacuated from Kherson as Russia stepped up its daily bombardment of the southern port city it retreated from two weeks ago.
Russian forces shelled the city and surrounding area 49 times in the past 24 hours, killing at least 10 civilians and wounding dozens more, the head of the Kherson regional military administration, Yaroslav Yanushevych, said on Friday morning.
Attacks on residential neighborhoods are heaping new suffering on the people of Kherson and Thursday was one of the deadliest days since the Kremlin ordered its forces to retreat. Soon after Mr. Yanushevych’s statement, further blasts were reported in the city, which remains without heat and electricity after departing Russian soldiers blew up much of the region’s critical infrastructure.
“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.
“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.”
“Together we endured nine months of full-scale war and Russia has not found a way to break us, and will not find one,” he added.
Ukrainian officials have encouraged people 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 did 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.”
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 people 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. But over the past month, as Russia has assumed defensive positions in the face of Ukrainian advances in the south and the northeast, Moscow has escalated its aerial bombardment of energy infrastructure targets in cities and towns across Ukraine.
Natalia Humeniuk, a spokeswoman for the Ukrainian military southern command, said Ukrainian forces could now reach critical Russian supply lines running from Crimea into southern Ukraine with precision missiles.
“The Russian forces already understand the failure of their military strategy,” she said, adding that they were building “a multilayered defense” on the eastern side of the river. The Russians have mined the coastlines, she said, and are setting up firing positions about 10 miles from the river, where they can target the city and surrounding region.
LVIVSKY OTRUBI, Ukraine — More that 15,000 people have gone missing since Russia invaded Ukraine, the International Committee for Missing Persons estimated on Friday. This is the story of two of them.
After Russian forces retreated from the southern port city of Kherson and its environs earlier this month, Serhiy Novosad, 26, returned to the small village of Lvivsky Otrubi where he had grown up, looking for his father and grandmother.
As the Russians’ fortunes sank in recent months, their occupation tactics had turned increasingly savage, and Mr. Novosad had begged his father and grandmother to leave and join him in Kyiv. But his father, also named Serhiy Novosad, would have none of it.
He was a farmer and had to tend to his field, he said. City life was not for him. The two men had been able to stay in touch up until the final days of the Russian occupation. But as the Russians pulled out of the village in early November, his father’s phone stopped working.
After being unable to reach him on Nov. 10, Mr. Novosad set out on the three-day journey from Kyiv to search for him and his grandmother.
When he got to his family home, he found Ukrainian soldiers living there. He asked them where his father was. They shrugged their shoulders, and pointed to what appeared to be a makeshift grave with a cross in front of the house directly across the street.
Reluctantly, he went to investigate.
The first thing he noticed were his father’s shoes sitting in a narrow trench dug into the front yard. But before he could look more closely, he had to wait for a demining team.
The Russians had used the family’s house as a base of sorts, and all around were discarded Russian uniforms and boots, dozens of empty ammunition crates, obscene graffiti scribbled on the walls, half-eaten hotdogs and tinned meat.
And the threat of mines.
The scale of the mining around Kherson is hard to comprehend, Rostyslav Smirnov, an adviser to the Ukrainian interior minister, said on Friday. While more than 5,000 mines have been disposed of, he said, they remain everywhere, including in children’s toys. “There was a mine between two soccer balls,” he said.
Once the sappers had removed the wooden cross to make sure it was not rigged, Ukrainian police officers this week started to clear dirt from the shallow grave.
Mr. Novosad recognized his father’s feet. He also spotted his grandmother’s cane visible through a thin layer of dirt. The bloodied, bruised and bullet-riddled bodies made it clear that Serhiy Novosad, 49, and his mother, Lyubov Novosad, 78, had met a violent end.
Andriy Kovalenko, a prosecutor in the Kherson regional prosecutor’s office, said their deaths would be added to the more than 6,000 criminal cases opened in and around Kherson city since the start of the war, based on testimony from people who had fled the area.
The Russian retreat from Kherson to the other side of the Dnipro River played out over weeks, during which time Russian soldiers had time to systematically loot the city and, according to Ukrainian officials, cover up evidence of war crimes.
Only now, with the Russians having withdrawn from the area, is it possible to independently investigate allegations of atrocities, including torture, kidnapping, murder and sexual violence.
But that work is complicated by the fact that Russian forces now across the river are stepping up their shelling of Kherson city and the surrounding towns and villages, promising more death and destruction in the coming weeks and months.
At a highly choreographed event days ahead of Russia’s Mother’s Day, President Vladimir V. Putin met on Friday with mothers of servicemen fighting in Ukraine and said that he shared their pain in an apparent attempt to contain a growing outcry over the Kremlin’s handling of the war.
The televised event at Mr. Putin’s residence outside Moscow 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.
Since Mr. Putin announced a national draft in September, social 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 that the meeting’s participants were most 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, a leader of the Council of Mothers and Wives, a prominent grass-roots organization of relatives of Russian serviceman, said no representatives of the group were invited to meet Mr. Putin on Friday, ahead of Mother’s Day on Sunday, 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.
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.”
“I want you to know that me personally and the country’s leadership share this pain,” Mr. Putin said at the beginning of the meeting. “We understand that nothing can replace the loss of a son, a child.”
Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February with the apparent hope that the government in Kyiv would quickly collapse. As the initial plan failed, and with Russian forces struggling to hold hundreds of miles of front lines, the Kremlin was forced to declare a mobilization of recruits, which it suspended earlier this month after a public backlash on a scale unseen since the start of the invasion.
For many apolitical Russians, the war had finally reached their homes, taking away their husbands and sons. In some cases, relatives have had to supply the ill-equipped mobilized men with everything from socks to drones. Many couldn’t reach their loved ones 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 Kostina said her nephew was sent from the Lipetsk region in western Russia to the front lines in Ukraine only eight days after he was mobilized.
The newly mobilized men “had to fight with automatic rifles against artillery,” Ms. Kostina said.
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?”
Diplomats from the European Union failed to agree Friday on final details of a policy to help limit Russia’s revenue from oil, according to senior E.U. diplomats, the latest setback to an effort led by the United States and Ukraine’s allies to curb the flow of cash financing Russia’s war in Ukraine.
For most of the past week, ambassadors of the 27 E.U. members meeting in Brussels have been unable to settle on a top price that traders, shippers and other companies in the supply chain could pay for Russian oil sold outside the bloc. The policy must be in place before an E.U. embargo on Russian oil imports kicks in on Dec. 5. The talks are set to resume next week.
The embargo applies only in the 27-nation bloc. So to further limit Russia’s financial gains, the group wants to cap how much buyers outside the region pay for Russian oil. That crude could only be sold outside Europe and would have to be below the agreed-upon price. Russia has repeatedly said it will ignore the policy and analysts have said it would be difficult to enforce.
The United States and Europe have imposed sanctions on Russia since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, cutting the country off from financial markets, and making oil, its biggest export, essential to financing the war. At stake is a complex and fraught effort among Ukraine’s allies to limit the Kremlin’s revenues from oil exports while averting a shortage of the fuel, which would force prices up and compound a global cost-of-living crisis.
The E.U. ambassadors have been asked to set a price from $65 to $70 per barrel, and to be flexible about enforcing the limit.
The benchmark for the price of Russian oil, known as the Urals blend, has traded from $60 to $100 per barrel in the past three years. In the past three months, the price is trading from $65 to $75 per barrel.
The burden of carrying out and policing the price cap policy will be on the businesses that help sell the oil. Those global shipping and insurance companies are mostly based in Europe. Most tankers transporting Russian oil are Greek-owned, according to maritime data. And London is home to the world’s biggest maritime insurance companies.
Some E.U. ambassadors, especially those from Poland and other staunch Ukraine allies, said that the price range proposed by the G7 was too high and that the cap should be set much lower in order to hurt Russian revenues, according to several E.U. diplomats directly involved in or briefed on the talks. They asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
Ambassadors from those holdout countries also want to see the oil price cap come hand-in-hand with clear and immediate plans for further sanctions against Russia — and are refusing to sign off on the cap without assurances that more sanctions are on the way.
Greece, Cyprus and Malta — which have serious stakes in the policy because of their large maritime industries — had been asking for a higher cap but by Friday had agreed on a cap around $65 per barrel, diplomats said.
France, Germany and Italy — the three E.U. nations that are members of the Group of 7 industrialized countries driving the Russian oil price cap — together with a number of other E.U. members, argued in favor of the U.S. position for a higher price cap and soft-touch enforcement, diplomats said.
The European Union embargo on Russian oil that kicks in on Dec. 5 also includes a ban on European services to ship, finance or insure Russian oil shipments to destinations outside the bloc, a measure that would disable the infrastructure that moves Russia’s oil to buyers around the world.
The price cap, though, would allow these European shipping providers to ignore the embargo as long as they ship the Russian crude outside the bloc at a price below the cap. Enforcing this would be left to the companies. Otherwise, they would be held legally liable for violating sanctions.
BERLIN — Angela Merkel, who led Germany for sixteen years, said that her diminished political power in the run up to her retirement prevented her from setting up diplomatic talks aimed at dissuading President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia from launching Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February.
In an extensive interview published on Thursday in Der Spiegel magazine, Ms. Merkel explained that she and France’s President Emmanuel Macron had tried in the summer of 2021 to set up talks between European Union leaders and Mr. Putin to de-escalate Russia-Ukraine tensions but failed. Ms. Merkel at that point had already announced her plans to retire.
“I no longer had the strength to assert myself because everyone knew: she would be gone in the fall,” she said.
She said she felt she was losing political clout before stepping down when dealing directly with Mr. Putin. Recounting her last state visit to Moscow in August of 2021, Ms. Merkel noted that Mr. Putin would not meet with her alone, as he had done in the past, instead opting to include his foreign secretary.
“The feeling was quite clear: ‘In terms of power politics, you’re through,’” she said, adding that “for Putin, all that counts is power.”
Ms. Merkel, a former East German physicist who speaks fluent Russian, was more familiar with Mr. Putin than many other European leaders, in part because they had both led their respective countries for so long. When Mr. Putin ordered his troops to invade Ukraine in late February, some analysts speculated that the timing was linked to Merkel’s retirement and the resulting perceived instability of the European Union.
Olaf Scholz, who succeeded Ms. Merkel as chancellor, traveled to Moscow in February — nine days before Russian troops invaded Ukraine. By then, Mr. Putin’s plans for the invasion were already in motion.
Ms. Merkel previously has distanced herself from criticism over Germany’s policies toward Russia during her 16-year tenure as chancellor and her country’s dependence on Russian energy.
She also has insisted that diplomatic efforts to prevent the invasion of Ukraine were the right course of action at the time.
“Diplomacy is not wrong if it does not succeed.” she said in June, adding: “So I don’t see that I have to say: that was wrong, and therefore I won’t apologize.”
All three nuclear power plants under Ukrainian control are back online and will soon be producing energy at normal capacity, the head of the national energy utility said on Friday, two days after Russian missile strikes that 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 energy, an uncommonly high rate of dependence. The Russian attacks on Wednesday triggered emergency protections at the three plants and required a halt to production.
“Now the energy system is fully integrated; all regions are connected,” said Volodymyr Kudrytskyi, the chief executive officer of Ukrenergo, the national utility. He added that utility crews are prepared to react to further Russian attacks, but urged consumers to save electricity.
The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, confirmed on Friday that the nuclear power plant sites were again able to access the national grid.
On Friday morning, electricity had been restored to meet about 70 percent of the country’s needs but rolling blackouts remained in place, Ukrenergo said in a statement posted on the Telegram messaging app.
“Priority was given to critical infrastructure facilities in all regions,” the statement said, adding that efforts to reconnect household consumers were ongoing in “subzero” temperatures.
The city government in Kyiv, the capital, said on Friday morning that water had been fully restored but that half of the city’s housing stock was still in emergency power outage mode. Without electricity, taps run dry, water purification becomes unreliable, and wastewater is either not collected or has to be disposed of untreated.
Wednesday marked the first time in the 40-year history of the country’s nuclear power industry that all operating nuclear facilities were shut down and had to rely on emergency diesel generators, officials said.
For months, attacks in and around the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant have left engineers racing from one crisis to the next as it has repeatedly been disconnected from the national energy grid. External power was restored on Thursday morning at the plant a day after it was lost, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has had inspectors at the facility since early September.
That plant, Europe’s largest, has been offline since September but still needs electricity to keep cooling equipment running around the clock and ward off a nuclear meltdown.
“The complete and simultaneous loss of off-site power for Ukraine’s nuclear power plants shows that the situation for nuclear safety and security in the country is become increasingly precarious, challenging and potentially dangerous,” Rafael Grossi, the U.N. agency’s director general, said on Thursday. “This would have been completely unimaginable before this tragic war. It is extremely concerning.”
The agency has started providing assistance at Ukraine’s other nuclear power plants after it was requested by Kyiv, Mr. Grossi said. “We must do everything to prevent a nuclear accident at any of these facilities, which would only add to the terrible suffering we are already witnessing in Ukraine,” he said.
Snow and freezing rain worsened the plight of millions of Ukrainians who were without power on Thursday evening.
“Energy workers, utility workers, business — everyone is doing their part to give light again,” President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said in his nightly address. “This is truly a nationwide task — Ukraine is working as unitedly as possible in this.”
European countries have been working to bolster Ukraine’s ability to endure the coming winter, as Kyiv struggles to address Russian strikes on infrastructure that recently plunged millions across the country into darkness amid freezing temperatures.
The latest efforts came Friday when Britain’s foreign secretary, James Cleverly, visited Kyiv and pledged a further 3 million pounds, or $3.6 million, to rebuild infrastructure in recently liberated parts of southern Ukraine, according to a statement released by Downing Street. France said it would send some 100 generators, part of a package announced earlier this month by 17 countries in the European Union.
The European Parliament, the E.U.’s lawmaking body, also launched an initiative this week calling on cities to donate generators and transformers to Ukraine, something they hope will keep essential services such as hospitals and schools running amid winter.
Mounting Russian aerial attacks in recent weeks have left around 40 percent of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure damaged or destroyed, officials say.
“As winter sets in, Russia is continuing to try and break Ukrainian resolve through its brutal attacks on civilians, hospitals and energy infrastructure,” Mr. Cleverly said in the statement. “Russia will fail.”
Deadly Russian strikes earlier this week knocked out power in swaths of the country and sent Ukrainian utility crews scrambling to stabilize the nation’s crippled energy grid. On Friday morning, electricity had been restored to meet about 70 percent of the country’s needs but rolling blackouts remained in place, the national utility company Ukrenergo said.
Mr. Cleverly’s pledge follows an unannounced visit to Kyiv on Saturday by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who promised a new 50 million pound air defense package and said that Britain would begin “stepping up humanitarian support for the cold, hard winter ahead.”
As part of that humanitarian aid, Britain promised an additional 16 million pounds channeled through the World Food Program and International Organization for Migration, which Downing Street said would help provide Ukraine with vital winter amenities such as generators. Britain also said that they would be sending “tens of thousands” of extreme cold winter kits to Ukrainian troops on the country’s front lines.
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has himself remained defiant. “If we survive this winter, and we will definitely survive it, we will definitely win this war,” he said earlier this month.
YAHIDNE, Ukraine — The elementary school’s former custodian carefully turned the key to the green door leading to the basement and walked down the stairs, shining a flashlight. Eventually, he paused the beam on a calendar scrawled on the cement wall and on the list of names alongside it.
It is how the people imprisoned there by Russian occupiers kept a record of who died and when.
“People were dying, people couldn’t take it,” said the former custodian, Ivan Petrovich Polhui. “There was not enough air. We spent a month there — 28 days.”
Mr. Polhui has become something of an unofficial keeper of the memories of the school and of the suffering that Russian soldiers inflicted there in March, when they held him and more than 300 of his neighbors, including children, in the dank and desperate confines of the basement.
Before the war, the elementary school had been a center point in the community. Mr. Polhui, whose grandchildren attended the school, said that there had been many happy memories made there before the Russian invasion.
Now, the children in the area attend other schools or take classes online. And while the Russian forces have gone, the trauma lingers for those who were held in captivity, with the still-intact elementary school serving as a daily reminder of their experiences.