1. Russia plans Kherson 'evacuation' as Ukrainian counteroffensive looms
Russia has organised what is called an "evacuation" of thousands of civilians from the area around Kherson, amid expectations of a possible assault to recapture the city by Ukrainian forces.
Moscow-backed authorities in the southern region said they would provide a "safe evacuation".
A senior Ukrainian official accused Russia of organising a "propaganda show".
Text messages on Wednesday urged people to leave Kherson, which was annexed by Moscow in September, Russia's state news agency RIA Novosti reported.
Russian State TV showed people gathering at a local river port waiting for "evacuation".
"There are plans to evacuate 50,000 to 60,000 people to the left bank of the Dnipro [river]," said Vladimir Saldo, the Kremlin-installed chief of the Kherson region. This would take place at a rate of 10,000 people per day over six days, he added.
What had previously been a trickle of people leaving the city in recent days became a flood after the announcement. Russian state television showed residents crowding on the Dnieper’s banks, many with small children, to cross by boats to the east — and, from there, deeper into Russian-controlled territory.
Russia has said the movement of Ukrainians to Russia or Russian-controlled territory is voluntary, but others have said that civilians wishing to escape the fighting often have no alternative routes to safety or are forced.
On Tuesday, Valdo announced an "organised, gradual displacement" of civilians from four towns along the Dnipro river to allow the Russian army to install "large-scale defensive constructions" in the face of a "vast counter-offensive" by Ukrainian forces.
Kherson is a symbolic target for Ukraine's government.
Russian forces in the area have been driven back by 20-30 kilometres in the last few weeks and are at risk of being pinned against the western bank of the 2,200-kilometre-long Dnipro river that bisects Ukraine.
Andriy Yermak, the head of the Ukrainian president's office, accused Russia of trying to "scare" Kherson residents with "fake newsletters" about Ukrainian shelling in southern Ukraine.
"This propaganda show ... will not work," he wrote on the Telegram app.
2. Kherson situation 'difficult', admits Russian commander
The new commander of Russian forces in Ukraine has described the situation as "difficult", following rapid Ukrainian advances in recent weeks.
The announcement by Sergei Surovikin, who now commands Russia's invasion force, is a rare acknowledgement of the pressures his country faces after the Ukrainian army retook areas Moscow claimed to have annexed in September.
"The situation in the area of the 'Special Military Operation' can be described as tense," he told the state-owned Rossiya 24 news channel. "The situation in this area [around Kherson] is difficult. The enemy is deliberately striking infrastructure and residential buildings in Kherson."
Ukrainian strikes are targeting Kherson's "social, economic and industrial infrastructure", Surovikin claimed, leading to disruptions in the supply of electricity, water and food.
He said that a "direct threat to the lives of the inhabitants" was why civilians needed to evacuate to Russian-controlled areas.
Ukraine denies has repeatedly denied targeting civilians.
Euronews cannot independently verify these claims.
The latest British military intelligence assessment says "major elements of Russia's military leaders are increasingly dysfunctional".
"Four out of five generals with direct operational command at the start of the invasion have since been dismissed, and their replacements have brought little improvement," it added.rote on the Telegram app.
3. Russia claims to have repelled Zaporizhzhia assault
The Russian military claimed it defeated a Ukrainian attempt to seize control of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant on Wednesday.
A defence ministry spokesman said that Russian forces thwarted a Ukrainian attack using 37 boats to try and take over the plant on the left bank of the Dnipro river.
They added that this landing party had been destroyed.
The claim could not be independently confirmed. Ukrainian officials made no immediate comment.
The Zaporizhzhia plant, Europe’s largest nuclear facility, was seized by Russian forces early on in the conflict.
It has seen relentless shelling in areas close to the plant, triggering fears of a possible nuclear catastrophe. Both sides blame one another for these attacks.
Earlier on Wednesday, a member of the Russian-installed council governing Zaporizhzhia said Ukraine's forces had intensified their overnight shelling of Russian-held Enerhodar — the town where many of the employees of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station live.
Vladimir Rogov said artillery fire had hit the town's outskirts and there had been 10 strikes around a thermal power station. Again these claims cannot be verified.
4. Putin declares martial law in annexed regions
Putin declared martial law in four regions of Ukraine annexed by Moscow on Wednesday, allowing local leaders extra emergency powers.
The Russian leader did not immediately outline the steps that would be taken under martial law, but said his order was effective starting Thursday.
His decree gave law enforcement agencies three days to submit specific proposals and ordered the creation of territorial defence forces in the annexed regions.
The upper house of Russia’s parliament quickly endorsed Putin’s plans for the annexed Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia regions.
The approved legislation indicated the declaration may involve restrictions on travel and public gatherings, tighter censorship and broader authority for law enforcement agencies.
"We are working to solve very difficult large-scale tasks to ensure Russia’s security and safe future, to protect our people," Putin said in televised remarks at the start of a Security Council meeting.
"Those who are on the frontlines or undergoing training at firing ranges and training centres should feel our support and know that they have our big, great country and unified people behind their back."
Putin’s broad decree could open the door to restrictions across western Russia, including Moscow, Saint Petersburg and other major cities, alongside annexed regions of Ukraine.
Putin also did not specify the extra powers the regional heads in Russia will gain under the decree, although Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin’s order does not mean the closure of Russia’s borders.
The Russian leader also ordered the establishment of a Coordination Committee to increase interactions between government agencies in dealing with the fighting in Ukraine.
5. Blackout warnings follow Russian strikes
Russian airstrikes cut power and water supplies to hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians on Tuesday, which President Zelenskyy said was part of a campaign to plunge the country into cold and darkness over the winter, making peace talks impossible.
Nearly one-third of Ukraine’s power stations have been destroyed in the past week, “causing massive blackouts across the country,” he said.
Tuesday's Russian strikes hit a power plant in Kyiv, killing three people, and energy infrastructure in Kharkiv in the east and Dnipro in the south.
A man sheltering in an apartment building in the southern port city of Mykolaiv was also killed, while Zhytomyr city was without water or electricity as of Tuesday.
5. Leaked audio suggests Italian ex-PM Berlusconi 'rekindled' friendship with Putin
A leaked recording published by news agency La Presse on Tuesday suggested that former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has "rekindled" his decades-old friendship with Putin.
The audio file comes from a meeting Berlusconi held with his parliamentarians, where he claims to be the first among "[Putin's] five real friends."
Berlusconi continued that he received an 86th birthday present consisting of 20 bottles of vodka and a "very sweet letter" from the Russian leader - to which he responded by sending his own letter and some Lambrusco wine.
"Russian ministers have said on several occasions that we are at war with them because we are providing arms and funding to Ukraine," Berlusconi can be heard saying.
He also added that he "can't personally give [his] opinion because if it is told to the press it will turn out to be a disaster", but that he was "very, very, very worried."
The revelations have caused an uproar in Italy, although Berlusconi's team have denied the allegations that he might be sympathetic to Moscow.
Berlusconi leads the Forza Italia party, part of a right-wing bloc led by Giorgia Meloni that obtained a landslide majority in Italy's snap general elections last month.
While the coalition is expected to form a government soon, it has been already been shaken by controversy and infighting, surrounding hostile comments between leaders and the newly-elected parliamentary speakers’ far-right politics.