Move comes ahead of expected advance by Ukrainian troops to recapture the city
Russian-installed authorities ordered all residents of the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson to leave “immediately” ahead of an expected advance by Ukrainian troops waging a counteroffensive to recapture one of the first urban areas Russia took after invading the country.
In a post on the Telegram messaging service, the regional pro-Kremlin administration called on civilians to use boat crossings over a major river to move deeper into Russian-held territory, citing a tense situation on the front and the threat of shelling and alleged “terror attacks” by Kyiv.
Russian forces have controlled Kherson since the early stages of the invasion in February. The region’s capital, the city, is one of four that Russian President Vladimir Putin illegally annexed last month and subsequently declared to be under martial law.
As they targeted pro-Kremlin forces’ resupply routes across the Dnieper River, Ukrainian forces bombarded Russian positions throughout the province on Friday, edging closer to a full assault on the province’s capital.
According to reports, Russian-installed officials were desperately attempting to turn the city of Kherson into a fortress while attempting to evict tens of thousands of residents. Kherson was a top target for both sides due to its important industries, major river, and seaport.
According to the general staff of the Ukrainian army, the Kremlin sent as many as 2,000 draftees into the neighborhood to make up for casualties and bolster frontline units.
The Dnieper River figures prominently in the regional battle because it serves critical functions – crossings for supplies, troops and civilians; drinking water for southern Ukraine and the annexed Crimean peninsula; and power generation from a hydroelectric station. Much of the area, including the power station and a canal feeding water to Crimea, is under Russian control.
Kherson’s Kremlin-backed authorities previously announced plans to evacuate all Russian-appointed officials and as many as 60,000 civilians across the river, in what local leader Volodymyr Saldo said would be an “organised, gradual displacement”.
Another Russian-installed official on Saturday estimated that about 25,000 people from across the region had made their way over the Dnieper. In a Telegram post, Kirill Stremousov claimed that civilians were relocating willingly.
“People are actively moving because, today, the priority is life. We do not drag anyone anywhere,” he said, in an apparent response to Ukrainian and western concerns about potential forced transfers by Moscow.
Ukrainian officials have urged locals to resist attempts to relocate them, with one local official alleging that Moscow wanted to take civilians hostage and use them as human shields.
Elsewhere, hundreds of thousands of people in central and western Ukraine woke up on Saturday to power outages and periodic bursts of gunfire, as Ukrainian air defence tried to shoot down drones and incoming missiles.
Russia has intensified its strikes on power stations, water supply systems and other key infrastructure across the country, the latest phase of the war as it nears the eight-month mark.
Ukraine’s air force said in a statement on Saturday that Russia had launched “a massive missile attack” targeting “critical infrastructure,” adding that it had shot down 18 out of 33 cruise missiles launched from the air and sea.