Ukraine war: Russia orders troops to quit Kherson; EU €18bn aid offer; Mariupol mass graves

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By Euronews  with AP, Reuters
A destroyed Russian tank is seen near the recently recaptured village of Yampil, Ukraine, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022.
A destroyed Russian tank is seen near the recently recaptured village of Yampil, Ukraine, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022.   -   Copyright  Credit: AP Photo

1. Russia orders troops to withdraw from Kherson

Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu on Wednesday ordered Russian troops to withdraw from the west bank of the Dnipro River in the face of Ukrainian attacks near the southern city of Kherson.

The announcement marked one of Russia's most significant retreats and a potential turning point in the war, now nearing the end of its ninth month.

But a Ukrainian presidential adviser said Kyiv saw "no sign" so far of a Russian troop pullout, and would remain sceptical "until the Ukrainian flag is flying over Kherson".

Shoigu said on television that he would "proceed with the withdrawal of the soldiers" after a proposal by the commander of Russian operations in Ukraine, General Sergei Surovikin.

Surovikin, in overall command of the war, acknowledged that it was "not at all an easy decision" to make but explained that it was no longer possible to supply Kherson city. He said he proposed to take up defensive lines on the eastern bank of the river.

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2. Moscow-installed deputy governor of Kherson died in 'car crash'

The Moscow-installed senior official of the occupied region of Kherson in Ukraine, Kirill Stremousov, died on Wednesday, according to Russian media and the regional governor.

Stremousov, who acted as the deputy governor in Kherson, was killed in "a car crash", the governor's office stated.

Stremousov was one of the most vocal proponents of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in late February. He has been wanted for treason by the Ukrainian authorities since his appointment two months into the invasion.

"Kirill Stremousov perished. This is a huge tragedy, an irreparable loss," Sergei Aksionov, the Kremlin-installed leader of Crimea, said on Telegram.

Kherson is one of the four regions -- together with Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia -- illegally annexed by Moscow on 30 September after sham referendums were held on their independence from Ukraine.

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Credit: Reuters
Kirill StremousovCredit: Reuters

3. Russian troops 'looting and destroying in Kherson'

Prior to Russia announcing the withdrawal of troops from Kherson, the Ukrainian military had accused Moscow's troops of looting and destroying infrastructure in the southern city.

Russian artillery hit more than 30 settlements in Kherson and Mykolaiv regions, a Ukrainian military statement said on Tuesday night.

"The village of Novovoskresenske in Kherson region was destroyed by Russians last night. They hit a residential building, as a result, one person was killed and one person was injured," the deputy head of Ukraine's presidential office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, said on Telegram.

A Russian-installed mayor in the town of Snihurivka, east of Mykolaiv, was cited by Russia's RIA news agency as saying on Tuesday that residents had seen Ukrainian tanks and that fierce fighting was going on.

Russian-installed authorities were forcing residents in the Zaporizhzhia region to accept Russian passports after seizing their Ukrainian documents, Ukraine's military said.

The general staff of Ukraine's armed forces estimates, in a Twitter post, that a further 780 Russian troops were killed over the last day -- bringing the total number of Russian personnel killed to 77,950 since the February 24 invasion. 

The Ukrainian claims cannot be independently verified.

In the eastern Donetsk region -- where the focal points of the conflict are around the towns of Bakhmut, Soledar and Avdiivka -- President Zelenskyy has said his forces will not yield "a single centimetre" in battles for control. 

4. European Commission proposes €18 billion in loans for Ukraine

The European Commission has proposed a support package for Ukraine worth €18 billion in the form of loans for 2023.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said it was "preparing the ground for a reconstruction of Ukraine progressing on the EU path".

The financial assistance of €1.5 billion per month "will help Ukraine maintain essential state functions, ensure macroeconomic stability and rehabilitate critical infrastructure," the Commission tweeted on Wednesday.

A Commission news release said it would help cover a significant part of Ukraine's short-term funding needs, estimated by Ukraine and the International Monetary Fund at €3 to €4 billion per month.

"This shows true solidarity of the EU," Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted after the plan was unveiled. "Together we resist Russia's aggression, together we'll rebuild Ukraine, together we'll be in the EU."

The money will go towards paying wages and pensions, keeping public services running, and restoring critical infrastructure destroyed by Russia.

The loans would be repaid over a period of up to 35 years, starting in 2033, with the EU covering Ukraine's interest rate costs.

To secure the funds for the loans, the Commission proposes borrowing on capital markets, using "the headroom of the 2021-2027 EU budget" as a guarantee.

The proposals need the approval of the European Parliament and EU member states in the European Council. The Commission says it will work hard for a "swift adoption" of the plan.

However, they face resistance from Hungary, which has dragged its feet on EU sanctions against Russia, even before the latest announcement.

"Hungary is ready to support Ukraine, but we do not wish to contribute to any new loan to be taken up by the EU," Finance Minister Mihaly Varga said on Tuesday.

Gergely Gulyas, chief of staff for Prime Minister Viktor Orban, said Budapest was willing to pay its share of financial support for Ukraine but would rather pay it bilaterally.

"There is joint decision making, so if we don't agree to this, this decision cannot be made," he told a news briefing in Budapest.

5. Crimea bridge 'not fully operational until September 2023' — UK intelligence

The Crimean Bridge -- damaged in a powerful blast a month ago -- is unlikely to be fully operational until at least September 2023, according to the UK's latest defence intelligence update.

It says the attack on the bridge -- which links the occupied peninsula to Russia -- has disrupted Russian logistics supplies, reducing Moscow's ability to move equipment and troops into Crimea and southern Ukraine by rail or road.

"The damage to the bridge, the recent attack on the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol and the probable withdrawal from Kherson all complicate the Russian government's ability to paint a picture of military success," the UK bulletin says.

UK Ministry of Defence on Twitter
UK Ministry of Defence Intelligence Update, 9 November 2022UK Ministry of Defence on Twitter

6. 'No need to evacuate cities' says PM as countries plan for refugees

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said on Tuesday he saw no need at present to evacuate Kyiv or any other cities that are not near the front lines in the war against Russia.

He made his comments at a cabinet meeting following Russian attacks on Ukraine's energy system, and after the mayor of Kyiv told residents to consider everything including a worst-case scenario where the capital loses power and water completely.

"Right now, the situation is far from (needing to) announce an evacuation," Shmyhal said. "We must say that to announce the evacuation of any city not near the front lines, especially the capital, would not make any sense at present."

Some eastern European countries are anticipating a possible fresh surge in Ukrainian refugees as winter looms and Russia targets Ukraine's power grid and heating plants.

Slovakia's contingency plan reckons as many as 700,000 people could cross onto its territory over three months due to tumbling temperatures and continued heavy fighting.

Charities say there are now signs of increased movement across the borders and are stepping up preparations. There are plans to reopen reception centres and restock food supplies.

"An increase in numbers is being felt, and is expected. It is currently up 15%," said Roman Dohovic, an aid coordinator for the eastern Slovak city of Kosice. "We are being called by people who are already staying in Kosice and looking for accommodation for family members and acquaintances who are still in Ukraine."

Kosice has provided accommodation for about 60 people daily in recent weeks but is preparing to raise that to 1,000 within 48 hours if needed.

In Hungary, Zsofia Dobis-Lucski of the Hungarian Reformed Church Aid -- an NGO working at the border -- said the number of daily arrivals at the Zahony frontier train station had jumped tenfold to around 300-500 since Russia's bombardment of Ukrainian cities intensified.

Data from the UN refugee agency UNHCR shows some 4.5 million Ukrainian refugees currently registered under various protection schemes across Europe, many of them in the EU states bordering Ukraine -- Slovakia, Poland, Hungary and Romania.

Some 6.9 million people are believed displaced internally within Ukraine, often living in very tough conditions. 

7. Italy 'planning new arms package' for Ukraine

The Italian government is preparing a new arms package for Ukraine including a variety of air defence systems and Stinger missiles, according to a coalition official. The quantity being offered and the delivery date for any shipment are unclear.

Western nations have been delivering more air defence hardware to Ukraine since President Zelenskyy asked G7 leaders for help to stop Russian missiles raining down on Ukrainian cities.

Giorgia Meloni's newly installed right-wing coalition government is preparing a sixth round of supplies, the first of which was approved in late February under the national unity government of Mario Draghi. 

Meloni is a staunch supporter of Ukraine despite the ambivalence of her coalition allies, Matteo Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi, who both have historically close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Rome has never disclosed details of the arms it has sent to Kyiv since the Russian invasion, but Italian and Ukrainian media have said previous shipments included multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS), Pzh2000 howitzers and armoured vehicles.

According to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy's "Ukraine Support Tracker", Italy has pledged €150 million in military aid for Kyiv, out of a total aid package of €692 million. This makes Italy the world's 8th largest contributor, although proportionate to GDP it sits outside the top 20.

Italian Defence Minister Guido Crosetto told US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin this week that Rome pledged to support Ukraine against Russia's invasion for "as long as necessary", a statement said.

Last Saturday, tens of thousands of Italians marched through Rome calling for peace in Ukraine and urging Italy to stop sending weapons.

On Monday, Kyiv said it had received its first delivery of NASAMS air defence systems from the United States. French President Emmanuel Macron also pledged last week to boost Kyiv's anti-air defences.

8. Satellite photos show rapid cemetery expansion near Mariupol

Satellite photos analysed by The Associated Press show a rapid expansion of a cemetery in southern Ukraine in the months after Russian forces seized the port city of Mariupol.

The images from Planet Labs PBC highlight the changes in the cemetery in Staryi Krym, an occupied town located northwest of the city. Comparing images from March 24, when Mariupol was under attack by the Russians, to one taken on October 14, months after the city's fall, shows significant growth to the cemetery’s southern fringes.

An area of some 1.1 square kilometres appears to have been freshly dug over that period in the cemetery’s southwestern corner. Another area of just over half a square kilometre was dug in the southeast corner.

It remains unclear how many people were buried in the cemetery during the roughly seven-month period.

The Center for Information Resilience, a London-based nonprofit that specialises in digital investigations and has monitored the Staryi Krym cemetery, estimated that more than 4,600 graves have been dug since the beginning of Russia's war in Ukraine.

Planet Labs PBC via AP
This March 24, 2022, satellite photo from Planet Labs PBC shows an area of a cemetery just northwest of Mariupol, Ukraine.Planet Labs PBC via AP
Planet Labs PBC via AP
This Oct. 14, 2022, satellite photo from Planet Labs PBC shows an area of recently dug graves. Satellite photos analyed by AP show a rapid expansion of the cemetery.Planet Labs PBC via AP

9. Sean Penn gives one of his Oscars to Zelenskyy

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met with American actor and director Sean Penn in Kyiv, who gave him his Oscar statue as a symbolic gesture of support.

"When you win, bring it back to Malibu," Penn joked. "I feel much better knowing there is a piece of me here." 

Zelenskyy said he will keep Penn's Oscar statue, saying it's "such a great honour, but until we win."

He then presented Sean Penn with the Order of Merit, honouring Penn's contribution to supporting Ukraine.

Penn was one of the first people who visited Ukraine after Russian troops moved into the country.

The square includes plaques with the world leader who have supported Ukraine throughout its war with Russia.

Additional sources • AFP