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Amid Intense Fighting, Ukraine Orders Evacuation of Children

The Ukrainian government has ordered the evacuation of hundreds of children in shattered villages across southern Ukraine, and is sending police door to door to convince parents that it is time to escape the widespread Russian shelling in the region.

Officials are also evacuating children in eastern Ukraine, where Russian forces are launching some of their largest offensive assaults in months. At least 41 children were moved in recent days and local authorities are pleading with families in at least eight communities to follow their neighbors and move to safety.

The mandatory evacuation orders are not the first of their kind in the 20-month war but they underscored the ferocity of the fighting at a moment when both Ukraine and Russia are pressing bloody assaults that invariably engulf the small villages near the front lines.

That the front has remained largely static for nearly a year can obscure the scale of the violence playing out daily along a line that stretches more than 1,000 miles from the Black Sea to the Russian border.

Measuring the intensity of the fighting can be difficult, but Ukrainian evacuation orders have often coincided with the most violent periods. And while most of the towns and villages along the front are now largely abandoned, thousands of families have refused to leave.

Oleksandr Tolokonnikov, the head of the press service for the Kherson regional military administration, said in an interview on Tuesday that violence along the Dnipro River had been increasing for weeks and families were ordered to leave 36 settlements last month. Around 450 children left, he said, but more than 1,000 remained.

The devastated village of Posad-Pokrovske, in Ukraine’s Kherson region, in September.Credit…David Guttenfelder for The New York Times

So the authorities decided this week to step up their efforts to convince “marginalized families” that they needed to move, including around 800 children.

“The police will be now going to them trying to persuade them to evacuate,” he said. “They can’t just take out the children. So they will have to work with the families. Under shelling.”

Inna Kholodnyak, the director of Kherson Regional Children Hospital, has tended to four or five children in recent days.

“Those were mine and blast injuries — with torn edges,” she said. “And pieces of metal inside.”

“I’m a doctor and a mother myself and I don’t think children should remain in the territories under constant shelling,” she said. “They should be brought to safety.”

Ivan Antypenko, a Ukrainian journalist from Kherson who works for Radio Liberty, visited more than a dozen villages on the Ukrainian-controlled side of the river that have been under bombardment in recent days. He said it was hard to describe life there because it was so far from anything most people could relate to.

“It is just horrible,” he said in video chat.

While the Russians have been shelling across the Dnipro since they were forced to retreat nearly a year ago, they are increasingly using 1,000-pound bombs dropped from aircraft that are capable of flattening entire buildings. Local officials said that during the summer, the Russians would drop one or two such munitions every day. Now, they can drop more than two dozen in a single bombardment, officials said.

Ukrainian soldiers firing at a Russian position on the outskirts of Bakhmut in Ukraine’s Donetsk region earlier this month.Credit…David Guttenfelder for The New York Times

Ukraine’s intelligence agency, the S.B.U., said this week that the Russians had been assisted by anti-Ukrainian “underground” collaborators in Kherson who were “directing rockets and guided aerial bombs of the Russian Federation at residential buildings,” and that suspects had been arrested who would be tried on treason-related charges.

“All three members of the enemy group, which corrected the artillery and rocket-bomb strikes on the city, were detained,” the agency said.

The bombardments around Kherson come as Ukrainian forces have stepped up amphibious assaults across the Dnipro, which military analysts have speculated may be part of a more ambitious effort to establish a proper bridgehead on the eastern bank. That would allow them to attack Russian supply lines more effectively.

The Ukrainian military has said little about the assaults and the state of the fighting remains murky.

Kyiv’s goal may be simply to stretch Russia’s resources but Moscow continues to demonstrate its ability to generate enough forces to defend in the south while once again going on the offensive in eastern Ukraine.

The Ukrainian General Staff said on Tuesday morning that Russian forces mounted assaults all along the eastern front on Monday, with the some of the most brutal battles in months being waged around the city of Avdiivka in the Donetsk region.

Standing by the grave of two residents who were killed in a missile strike while sitting outside their house in Avdiivka, on Monday.Credit…Nicole Tung for The New York Times

Russian forces are heavily shelling a vital road into the besieged town, Vitaliy Barabash, the head of the Avdiivka military administration, said.

“This complicates both the evacuation of civilians and the import of humanitarian aid,” he said. While most of the town’s 30,000 civilian residents fled long ago, around 1,700 people remain.

The Russians have the town surrounded on three sides but have not been able to vanquish Ukrainian forces and capture it. Despite suffering heavy losses since the Kremlin ordered its forces to go on the offensive earlier this month, the Russians appear determined to keep mounting assaults.

Anna Lukinova contributed reporting from Kyiv.

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