Russian referendum in occupied Kherson suspended due to Ukrainian counteroffensive

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The Moscow-appointed government in Ukraine’s occupied Kherson region has suspended plans for a referendum on joining Russia as Ukraine continues its counteroffensive to retake the territory.

Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of administration of Kherson, said the plans had been put on hold due to the security situation, the Tass news agency reported.

He said a road bridge over the Dnipro River had become impassable after weeks of Ukrainian shelling.

Russian officials wanted to hold referendums in several occupied regions, including the self-declared people’s republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, alongside elections in Russia.

Ukraine and its allies have denounced the referendum plans.

Ukraine said its forces had taken control of Vysokopillya, a town about 150 kilometers northeast of the city of Kherson, which was captured by Russia at the start of the war.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office, posted an image on Facebook showing soldiers raising the Ukrainian flag in Vysokopillya.

Its caption read: “Vysokopillya, Kherson region. Ukraine. Today.”

On Monday, Ukraine told residents of the Crimean peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014, to prepare bomb shelters and stock up on supplies as it continues its eastward push.

“We call on the inhabitants of the occupied territories, including the Crimean Peninsula, to follow [Ukrainian] recommendations of the authorities during vacancy measures,” said presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak.

“In particular, to prepare a bomb shelter, to stock up with sufficient quantities of water and to recharge the powerbanks. Everything will be Ukraine.”

The announcement came as the only remaining reactor at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was taken offline again on Monday, with nearby shelling disrupting power lines.

Referring to information provided by Ukraine, the International Atomic Energy Agency said that the plant’s emergency power line was cut to extinguish a fire.

The line was not damaged and will be reconnected, he said.

The UN nuclear watchdog said the plant has enough electricity to operate safely and will be reconnected to the grid once emergency power is restored.

Mr Zelenskyy blamed the incident on Russian bombing and said he put the site “one step away” from a nuclear disaster.

“Once again – already for the second time – because of Russian provocation, the Zaporizhzhia station was placed one step away from a radioactive disaster,” he said.

Ukrainian Energy Minister German Galushchenko said “the world is once again on the brink of a nuclear catastrophe”.

“Disoccupying the ZNPP and creating a demilitarized zone around it is the only way to ensure nuclear security,” he said.

Six inspectors from the UN agency arrived in Zaporizhzhia last week to assess the safety of the plant.

Two members remain on site to monitor operations.

The head of the watchdog, Rafael Grossi, will release a report on Ukraine, including the plant, on Tuesday and brief the UN Security Council, the agency said.

Updated: September 06, 2022, 08:59

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