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Zelensky: Russia Aims To Spark Exodus Of Ukrainians With Infrastructure Attacks

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told EU leaders on October 20 that Russian attacks that have destroyed a large portion of Ukraine's energy infrastructure are aimed in part at provoking a new wave of migration of Ukrainians to EU countries.

"Russian terror against our energy facilities is aimed at creating as many problems as possible with electricity and heat for Ukraine this fall and winter, and for as many Ukrainians as possible to go to your countries,” he told an EU summit in Brussels.

This should be "answered immediately," primarily by more air-defense systems sent to Ukraine, the president said.

"We must do everything possible to make it completely impossible for Russia to destroy our energy system with missiles and drones," Zelensky said in a virtual speech to EU lawmakers, calling on Ukraine's partners to provide systems "to create a truly reliable air shield."

Russia has stepped up attacks on Ukrainian civilian and infrastructure facilities since October 10, mainly using kamikaze drones that Ukraine and its Western allies say are made by Iran. Moscow and Tehran have denied the accusations.

Zelensky also warned that Ukraine suspects Russia has mined the dam and units of the Nova Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant on the Dnieper River in southern Ukraine, and if it were blown up, more than 80 settlements, including Kherson, would be in danger of flooding.

Zelensky said Ukrainian workers have been thrown out of the facility, leaving Russians in control. He asserted that Russia "has already prepared everything to carry out this terrorist attack."

He called for an international observation mission and the return of Ukrainian personnel to ensure the mines are removed from the dam and its units.

Zelensky's comment came two days after Vladimir Saldo, the Russian-appointed head of the Kherson region of Ukraine, announced an "organized, gradual displacement" of civilians from four towns on the right bank of the Dnieper River to the left side.

Saldo accused Ukrainian forces of planning to destroy the dam and also warned of "an immediate danger of flooding."

The Moscow-installed authorities of Kherson said on October 20 that about 15,000 people had left the region.

The Moscow-appointed deputy head of the Kherson region, Kirill Stremousov, encouraged people to cross over to the left bank of the Dnieper River and posted a video of a column of buses on Telegram.

Kyiv has denounced Moscow's move, calling it a "deportation" of Ukrainian civilians to Russia.

But Stremousov said people should follow the evacuation instructions and leave Kherson, one of four Ukrainian regions illegally annexed by Russia.

"Give the military a chance to do what they have to do," he said, claiming that the Russian Army will not surrender Kherson.

Zelensky’s office said Ukrainian forces on October 20 had mounted 15 attacks on Russian military strongholds in the Kherson region. Russia’s Defense Ministry spokesman said the Kremlin’s forces repelled Ukrainian attempts to advance with tanks on three Kherson villages.

Another Russian-installed official in the region, Vladimir Leontyev, said Ukrainian forces had launched five missile strikes against the Kakhovka dam.

Ukraine earlier on October 20 began restricting electricity consumption for the first time since the start of Russia's invasion as the country sustained serious damage to its infrastructure following waves of Russian air strikes targeting its electricity grid ahead of the onset of winter.

Oleksandr Kharchenko, an adviser to the energy minister, said on October 19 that there would be outages, including some that are scheduled.

"Unfortunately, according to new data, about 40 percent of the total infrastructure is seriously damaged. Repair and connection work is ongoing, but outages are expected," Kharchenko said on Ukrainian television.

In the latest Russian attack, an energy facility was struck and damaged in the Kryvorizka district of the Dnipropetrovsk region, the head of the regional administration, Valentyn Reznichenko, reported on October 20.

Related: Chinese Steel Manufacturers On The Brink Of Bankruptcy

Earlier, a missile strike hit a major coal-fired power station in the city of Burshtyn in western Ukraine, the region's governor said.

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"Our region experienced missile fire today. The Burshtyn thermal power station was hit, which caused a fire," Svitlana Onyshchuk, governor of Ivano-Frankivsk region, said in an online video statement.

The Burshtyn power station supplies electricity to three western regions and 5 million consumers.

Ahead of the summit, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz addressed lawmakers in Berlin on October 20, condemning Russia's latest drone attacks on civilian targets in Ukraine and saying that "such scorched-earth tactics will not help Russia win the war."

Scholz said such tactics by Russian President Vladimir Putin would "only strengthen the resolve and the will of Ukraine and its partners to persevere."

"In the end, Russia's bombing and missile terror is an act of desperation -- just like the mobilization of Russian men for war," Scholz said. "He wants to sow fear, divide, and intimidate. He is speculating on our weakness, but he is wrong -- we are not weak."

Scholz said the reconstruction of Ukraine after the war would be a "generational task in which the entire civilized community of states must join forces."

In London, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace will also make a statement to parliament on Ukraine later on October 20, the House of Commons said on Twitter.

By RFE/RL

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