Russian missiles have pounded dozens of Ukrainian cities and towns over the past 24 hours, while the head of one of the regions annexed by Russia told residents on Thursday to leave amid fighting between Russian and advancing Ukrainian forces.
A day after the United Nations Security Council condemned Moscow’s incorporation of four partially occupied regions into its territory as illegal, the Russian-installed governor of one of those, Ukraine’s southern Kherson region, appealed for residents to take their children and leave.
The official, Vladimir Saldo, asked for Moscow’s help in transporting civilians into Russia, saying the cities in the region were subject to missile attacks.
Since August, Kherson has been the centre of a major Ukrainian counter-offensive in which Kyiv says it has retaken more than 1,170 sq km (450 sq miles) of land.
Russian troops were not preparing to leave Kherson, another Russian-installed official said.
After Russia lost ground since early September around Kherson and a large area in the country’s northeast, Moscow has intensified its air campaign, prompting Kyiv’s allies to pledge more air defence systems and other military aid.On Thursday NATO allies meeting in Brussels unveiled plans to also jointly beef up Europe’s air defences with Patriot and other missile systems.
“We are living in threatening, dangerous times,” said German Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht at a signing ceremony where Germany and more than a dozen of European NATO members committed to jointly procuring weapons for a “European Sky Shield” to better protect their territory.
Moscow renewed warnings that more military aid for Kyiv made members of the U.S.-led military alliance “a direct party to the conflict,” and said admitting Ukraine to the alliance would trigger a global conflict.
“Kyiv is well aware that such a step would mean a guaranteed escalation to a World War Three,” deputy secretary of Russia’s Security Council, Alexander Venediktov, told the state TASS news agency on Thursday.
Moscow has repeatedly justified the Feb. 24 invasion that has killed tens of thousands of people, in what it calls a “special operation”, by saying Ukraine’s ambitions to join the alliance posed a threat to Russia’s security.