Kyiv, Ukraine – Russian occupation officials were relocating civilians from Kherson on Wednesday, another indication that Moscow’s control over the strategic city in southern Ukraine is losing ground, as Russian President Vladimir Putin has sought to reassert control over that city and other occupied areas through Declaration of martial law.
Putin’s move was an attempt to tighten the Kremlin’s authority over Kherson and three other Ukrainian regions he had recently claimed annexed, even as his military lost territory in those regions to Ukrainian forces and as Western allies dismissed the annexations as illegal.
Russian acting officials in Kherson also said they would move up to 60,000 civilians to the eastern side of the Dnipro River and change its civil administration there, apparently preparing for a battle for control of the area. Amid a weeks-long counter-offensive in Ukraine, the pro-Kremlin leader in Kherson, Vladimir Saldo, said the relocations would protect civilians and help Russian forces fortify their defenses “to repel any attack”.
Ukrainian officials dismissed the plans as a “propaganda show”. Andrei Yermak, chief of staff to President Volodymyr Zelensky, accused Russia’s agents of intimidating civilians with allegations that Ukraine would bomb the city. he is called him “A rather primitive tactic, given that the armed forces do not shoot at Ukrainian cities – this is done exclusively by Russian terrorists.”
Ukrainian forces were gradually advancing for weeks on both sides of the river at Kherson, an area that Moscow captured early in the war and declared part of Russia. Since late August, Ukrainian forces have destroyed bridges near the city of Kherson, making it difficult for Moscow to resupply the thousands of troops that were stationed there.
Western analysts have pointed out that Russian positions in and around the city are untenable without bridges, and US officials have said Russian leaders have urged a withdrawal from Kherson, Only for Mr. Putin to reverse it. But Ukraine’s counterattack in the Kherson region moved more slowly than its recent advance to the east, and it was unclear whether its forces would soon see a push to retake Kherson.
On Tuesday, the general Putin appointed earlier this month to lead the war in Ukraine, Sergei Sorovikin, said he was ready to make “difficult decisions” about the military deployment in the Kherson region, without specifying what those decisions would entail.
Hints of a Russian withdrawal of civilian officials at least have been greeted with caution by Ukrainian officials, saying the announcements may be aimed at an internal Russian public, indicating a commitment to protecting civilians or preparing for Russian military action in the region. Videos broadcast by Russian media showed what appeared to be queues of civilians boarding ferries at a river port to be evacuated to the eastern bank of the Dnipro River.
The Kherson region stretches on both banks of the river, and the city of Kherson, the capital of the region, is located on the western side. The West Bank is a vast expanse of flat farmland criss-crossed by rivers and irrigation canals, and it was one of the war’s most pivotal battlefields.
Over the summer, Ukrainian forces had retreated from Russian supply lines by firing US-supplied precision-guided missiles at the four bridges over the Dnipro River in Russian-controlled areas. All are now mostly destroyed.
In late August, Ukraine launched an offensive with ground forces, advancing in bloody slow-moving combat through dozens of villages while pushing Russian forces back, toward Dnipro. Russian announcements of civilian evacuations and civil administration may signal a faltering of military defenses, foreshadowing a Russian withdrawal from the western bank of the Dnipro River in what may be a major setback for Moscow — but it may also be a hoax.
Mr Saldo, the Ukrainian politician who changed his stance at the start of the large-scale Russian invasion, told Russia’s state news agency RIA on Wednesday that all ministries would evacuate the East Bank. The occupation government said earlier on Wednesday that it would evacuate 50,000 to 60,000 civilians across the river and onward to occupied Crimea or to Russia. Mr. Saldo said residents risked artillery fire from the Ukrainian army or a flood from destroying the Kakhovka hydroelectric dam on the Dnipro River.
October 19, 2022
An earlier version of this article misidentified the location to which Russian agency officials in Kherson, Ukraine said they would relocate up to 60,000 civilians. It is the eastern side of the Dnipro River, not the western side.
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