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Millions of Ukrainians left without electricity after Russian strikes

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And latest on the war in Ukraine - both Russian and Ukrainian officials warn major battle may be brewing for Kherson. Millions of people across Ukraine are without electricity after Russian strikes on energy infrastructure. NPR's Jason Beaubien is in Kyiv and joins us now. Jason, thanks so much for being with us.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Hey, good morning.

SIMON: What more can you tell us about what the situation seems to be in and around Kherson?

BEAUBIEN: Yeah. You know, first, I should say that there have been rumblings for weeks, even months, that Ukrainian troops are going to retake Kherson. And while they have made progress towards the city, Russia still holds it at the moment. That said, the Moscow-backed government has been ferrying civilians out of Kherson to the east bank of the Dnieper River and taking them deeper into Russian-controlled territory. Yesterday, even Russian President Vladimir Putin weighed in, saying all civilians should be evacuated from the city of Kherson.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Non-English language spoken).

BEAUBIEN: Putin said that the civilian population shouldn't suffer shelling. And his concern, his warning here is quite frightening, given how willing Russia was to pound civilians in order to take the city of Mariupol. The loss of Kherson would be another major setback for Moscow. And there's concern that this could turn into a bloody urban battle.

SIMON: Should mention there's been talk for some time of a Ukrainian counteroffensive. What other signs seem to add up that a battle for Kherson might be imminent?

BEAUBIEN: Yeah. Yeah. You know, the Ukrainian troops definitely are advancing, although slowly. They've taken back a lot of territory from the Russians north and west of the city. But also, we are seeing and hearing about shifts inside Kherson itself. This week, residents are reporting that Russian military roadblocks - all of a sudden, they're unmanned and abandoned out in the street. On Thursday, the Russian flag, which had been flying over the main government building in the center of town, was no longer there. Also, Moscow-backed proxy government officials - they pulled all of their bureaucrats out of Kherson and moved them to a city about 50 miles deeper into Russian-controlled territory. And then there has been this drumbeat by Russian officials that civilians should leave. And that drumbeat seems to be getting more and more frantic.

SIMON: And what have Ukrainians said?

BEAUBIEN: Ukrainian intelligence officials are warning that this could all be a trap to try to lure Kyiv's forces into the city, where they might easily be ambushed. And so far, they're being very cautious. They continue to warn that this could be a brutal battle over this strategic port at the mouth of the Dnieper River.

SIMON: And we don't want to overlook that the rolling power outages seem to continue because of Russian attacks on the electrical infrastructure.

BEAUBIEN: Yeah.

SIMON: How significant are these blackouts?

BEAUBIEN: I mean, they're huge. They're happening all across the country, and they're coming as it's getting quite cold here. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday said Russia is launching attacks on Ukraine's energy infrastructure every day, and he said rolling blackouts are happening all across the country.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: (Non-English language spoken).

BEAUBIEN: "They cannot defeat Ukraine on the battlefield," Zelenskyy said. "That is why they're trying to break our people in this way." But, he added, Russia will not succeed. He added, however, though, that Ukrainians are going to have to buckle down. They're going to have to conserve electricity, and they're going to have to shoulder the burden of power outages as part of fighting against Russia in this war.

SIMON: NPR's Jason Beaubien in Kyiv, thanks so much for being with us.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.