Russia may be prepping to abandon embattled nuke plant; Russian says troops need more docs, equipment: Ukraine updates

The Russian military could be preparing to abandon the beleaguered Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant it has occupied since March, a top Ukraine energy official says.

Petro Kotin, president of Ukraine's nuclear energy operator Energoatom, told the Ukraine TV show TSN that Russians could transfer control of the plant to the International Atomic Energy Agency, although he provided no timeline.

"It looks like they're packing and stealing whatever they can find," Kotin said.

The area around the Zaporizhzhia plant, Europe's largest, has been battered by missile strikes for months and has been offline much of the time. IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi has repeatedly warned that a nuclear catastrophe could result if fighting in the region is not halted.

Russian attacks cut off essential power to all four of Ukraine's nuclear power plants last week, forcing operators to conduct high-risk procedures.

"We must do everything we can to prevent nuclear accidents at any of these nuclear facilities, which would only add to the terrible suffering we already witnessing in Ukraine," Grossi said.

Other developments

►Former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, who is raising funds to replace Ukrainian ambulances destroyed by Russian shelling, arrived in Kyiv and began surveying damage to the region. "The depravity of Russian destruction has no bounds," Kelly tweeted.

►Russian TV personality Vladimir Solovyov urged his country to institute the death penalty for soldiers who abandon their posts in Ukraine. He also grew angry on national TV when online commenters urged him to go to the frontlines.

►Europe is united by a desire to keep Russia from posing a security threat, and a sovereign Ukraine is crucial, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said. Orban, who has balked at sanctions aimed at Russia, last week said he would support NATO bids for Sweden and Finland next year.

►Repair crews across Ukraine were scrambling to restore heat, electricity and water services that were severely damaged amid a punishing barrage of Russian missiles targeting infrastructure in recent days.

Zelenskyy, Kyiv mayor squabble amid snow, cold, power out

Snow has blanketed much of Ukraine with temperatures hovering around freezing as utility workers scramble to patch a national power system battered by repeated Russian missile and drone strikes. Ukraine power grid operator Ukrenergo said Sunday that electricity producers were supplying about 80% of demand, up from 75% the previous day.

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko on Sunday rejected complaints from President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that too many Kyiv residents were still without power and that insufficient centers had been set up across the city for residents of the capital to stock up on food, water, battery power and other essentials.

"Today, when everyone must work together, some political dances begin," Kitscho wrote on Instagram. "In Kyiv, we are doing everything we can for the life support of the capital, for the comfort of its residents. In difficult conditions."

Pace of war, slowed by mud, could pick up as ground freezes

The pace of the war, slowed in recent days due to deteriorating weather conditions, is likely to increase starting in the next few weeks as temperatures drop and the ground freezes, a Washington-based think tank says it its most recent assessment of the war. Both sides are bogged down by mud, but falling temperatures will likely "expedite the pace of fighting" as mobility increases for both sides, the Institute for the Study of War says.

"It is unclear if either side is actively planning or preparing to resume major offensive or counter-offensive operations at that time, but the meteorological factors that have been hindering such operations will begin lifting," the assessment says.

Russian leader admits military needs more doctors, equipment

A prominent Russian nationalist says the Russian military doesn't have enough doctors. Leonid Slutsky, leader of the populist Liberal Democratic Party, issued a rare public admission of problems within the military while meeting with mothers of soldiers mobilized to fight in Ukraine.

"There are not enough doctors in the military units; everyone says this," Slutsky, chairman of the foreign relations committee in the lower house of parliament, said at the meeting in St. Petersburg. "I cannot say they do not exist at all, but they are practically not seen there.”

Slutsky stressed that the world is watching Russia, and "when we do not have socks, shorts, doctors, intelligence, communications, or simply care for our children, questions arise that will be very difficult to answer."

Olga Suyetina said her son told her that the troops are underequipped.

“There are no gunsights, nothing, we have to buy them by crowdfunding," she said. "They left Kharkiv, there was zero, there was not even polyethylene to cover the dugouts.”

Ukraine adds businesses amid missile strikes

New businesses are opening across Ukraine despite the battering of Russian missiles. In April, 15,000 business entities were registered, and in August the number reached 23,000, the government said. More businesses opened than closed.

On Oct. 2, a Vivat bookstore opened in Kyiv and drew 1,200 visitors. Amid air raids, customers waited in line up to 40 minutes to buy books. Vivat made news in April when it conduced a book launch in a Kharkiv bomb shelter.

"By opening a bookstore in Kyiv, we wanted to show that the publishing house is alive,” said Vivat official Yuliia Orlova.

Recently liberated Kherson battered by Russian shelling

Thousands of Kherson residents are fleeing the southern Ukrainian city whose liberation had been celebrated weeks earlier. Kherson Gov. Yaroslav Yanushevych said Sunday that Russian forces shelled the region 54 times over the past day, killing one person and wounding two, including a child. Yanushevych, on Telegram, said Russia “purposefully” targeted civilian infrastructure and civilians. Residential buildings, a garage, and an educational institution were hit in Kherson, while eight nearby villages came under fire, Yanushevych says.

“Russians continue to use terror tactics,” the governor said.

Putin meets with military moms ahead of Russian Mother's Day

Russian President Vladimir Putin met with a group of mothers whose children are serving in the Russian military in Ukraine or have already been killed in action. Putin, addressing adressing the mothers two days before Russian Mother's Day, said he frequently speaks with troops on the front lines and that morale is good. And he paid homage to soldiers whose lives were lost.

"I can't bring myself to telling you some formal standard things related to the expression of condolences," he said in addressing mothers of those who died. "But I want you to know that I personally, and the entire leadership of the country, we share your pain. We understand that nothing can replace the loss of a son, the loss of a child."

Contributing: The Associated Press

This file photo taken on September 11, 2022 shows the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.
This file photo taken on September 11, 2022 shows the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ukraine updates: Russia may be ready to abandon nuclear plant