Eastern European countries like Slovakia and Hungary are preparing for an increase in the number of refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine in the coming months as winter approaches.
Russia has targeted power and heating plants in Ukraine in the past few months. Temperatures drop below zero Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit), with lows of minus 20 degrees Celsius in the region. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said about 4 million people are out of power.
Roman Dohovic, an aid coordinator for the eastern Slovak city of Kosice, said the increase in the number of refugees is “currently up 15%,” with about 6.9 million people believed to be displaced internally within different parts of Ukraine.
Russia continues to deploy its troops, however, and call on reservists in continuation of its invasion. Ukraine’s forces have been fending off attacks, according to reports, and are also on the offensive.
As part of its broader war efforts, Russia has been working on repairing the Crimean Bridge damaged in October, but the British defense ministry said Wednesday the bridge is “unlikely to be fully operational until at least September 2023.”
The road bridge was scheduled to close Tuesday in order to install a 64-meter span, the ministry said in a Twitter post. Three additional spans are needed to rebuild the damaged bridge.
“Although Crimean officials have claimed these additional spans will be in place by 20 December, a briefing provided to President [Vladmir] Putin added that works to the other carriageway would cause disruption to road traffic until March 2023,” the post said.
The bridge is used to transfer Russian logistics supplies for Crimea and southern Ukraine. Russia used the route to move military equipment and troops in the area by rail or road since the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the defense ministry’s update added.
Elsewhere in Russian-occupied areas, the Kremlin-installed mayor in the town of Snihurivka, east of the southern city of Mykolaiv, was cited by Russia's RIA news agency as saying residents had seen tanks and that fierce fighting was going on.
"They got into contact during the day and said there were tanks moving around and, according to their information, heavy fighting on the edge of the town," Reuters quoted Mayor Yuri Barabashov as saying, sharing accounts of residents.
"People saw this equipment moving through the streets in the town center," Barabashov said.
The Ukrainian governor of Mykolaiv region, Vitaly Kim, said Ukraine’s offenses have pushed Russian troops out of the region. "Russian troops are complaining that they have already been thrown out of there," Kim said in a statement on his Telegram channel.
The Reuters news agency reported that it was not able to independently verify the accounts coming from the warring sides. No official confirmation from Ukraine and Russia were issued on the battleground reports, the report added.
NATO leaders announced Wednesday they are planning to meet for another summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, from July 11 to 12, 2023. They met in Madrid, Spain, in June.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said the military alliance plans to take "further steps to strengthen our deterrence and defense and review significant increases in defense spending, as well as to continue our support for Ukraine."
Meanwhile, the chief of staff to Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Wednesday the country's parliament is scheduled to discuss the ratification of Sweden’s and Finland's accession to NATO during its autumn session after a series of EU-related bills have been passed.
"Finland and Sweden are our allies and they can count on us," Gergely Gulyas told a briefing. Hungary and Turkey are the only members of the alliance that have not cleared the accession process.
Some information in this report came from Reuters.