On Wednesday, Russian leaders settled in Ukraine’s Kherson region began massively accelerating the relocation of up to 60,000 people amid warnings about Russia’s ability to withstand a Ukrainian counteroffensive.
Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of generating “hysteria” to force people to leave. Residents of the city of Kherson began receiving text messages from the pro-Russian administration on Wednesday morning.
“Dear Residents,” it read. “Evacuate immediately. There will be shelling of residential areas by Ukrainian armed forces. There will be buses from 07:00, from Rechport [River port] on the left bank.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced he had signed a law establishing martial law in Kherson and three other Ukrainian regions that the Kremlin claims it annexed, in violation of international law. The other regions are Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk.
In his first appearance on Russian state television as the new Kremlin commander for Ukraine, General Sergey Surovikin said on Tuesday evening that the situation in Kherson was “far from simple” and “very difficult”. .
“Our future plans and actions towards the city of Kherson will depend on the military and tactical situation on the ground,” he said.
Ukrainian forces have advanced in several parts of the Kherson region in recent weeks, capturing villages and farmlands along the western bank of the Dnipro, also known as the right bank.
Russia’s ability to resupply its troops in Kherson has been severely hampered by frequent Ukrainian missile and artillery strikes on Russian-controlled bridges crossing the Dnipro. The explosion earlier this month that severely damaged the Kerch Bridge, which connects Russia to Crimea, further hampered Russian logistics.
Last week, the head of the Russian-backed administration called on the Kremlin to help evacuate civilians near the front line.
On Tuesday, the rhetoric reached a new level. Just after 11 p.m. local time (4 p.m. ET), Kirill Stremousov, the deputy head of the Russian-backed administration, posted a video on his Telegram channel.
“Ukrainian Nazis pushed by the West will begin their attack on Kherson very soon,” he said. “We strongly advise leaving the right bank area.”
This morning, just after 8 a.m., he continued with: “Pass as quickly as possible on the left bank [the eastern side] of the Dnipro river. Hours later, the Russian-backed administration went so far as to close all entrances to the right bank of the Dnipro for seven days.
Ukrainian officials estimate less than half of Kherson’s civilian population remains in the city – around 130,000 people.
Vladimir Saldo, the Russian-backed leader in the Kherson region, told Russian state television on Tuesday evening that they planned to move 50,000 to 60,000 people from the right bank to the left bank of the Dnipro.
Hear what Russian officials texted Ukrainian residents under Putin’s martial law order
Ukrainian leaders in exile in the Kherson region accuse Russian leaders of stirring up “hysteria” to intimidate the population and order “voluntary deportations” to Russia, where they have been promised housing assistance.
“On the one hand, we understand that the Ukrainian armed forces will liberate Kherson and the region – as a result, there may be active hostilities, and this is a risk for the local population,” said Yurii Sobolevskyi, deputy chief of the Ukrainian regional council for Kherson, CNN told Wednesday.
“On the other hand, there is no guarantee that the evacuees will be safe there and away from the front line. Now people are making their own decisions – to leave or to stay. It is difficult to say what decision they will make.
Russia’s “mass deportation of civilians” could, along with other alleged abuses, amount to crimes against humanity, according to a July report by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). In September, the UN Security Council also declared Russia’s forced expulsion of 2.5 million people from Ukraine – including 38,000 children – a human rights violation.
Ukraine denounced Russia’s “filtration” program at a meeting of the United Nations Security Council last week. Ukraine’s deputy ambassador to the UN, Khrystyna Hayovyshyn, said Ukrainians forced to travel to Russia or Russian-controlled territory were being killed and tortured.
Hayovyshyn told the Security Council that thousands of Ukrainian citizens are being forcibly deported to “isolated and depressed regions of Siberia and the Far East.
Ukrainian citizens are being terrorized, under the guise of searching for “dangerous” people by Russian authorities, Hayovyshyn said. Those with different political views or affiliated with the Ukrainian government or media disappear into a gray area. Children are torn from their parents’ arms, said the representative of Ukraine.
In the heady early days of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, when confusion reigned, the capture of the southern city of Kherson was a key strategic and propaganda victory for the Kremlin.
On the seventh day of the war, the mayor of Kherson announced that Russian soldiers had entered his office and the city had fallen.
Geographically, it was vital: Kherson is at the mouth of Ukraine’s central artery, the Dnipro River, and not far from the canal that supplies Crimea with water. The Ukrainian government had closed this channel in 2014, when Russia illegally annexed the peninsula.
It was the first major city captured by Russia and the only regional capital taken since February. (In addition to Crimea, Russian-backed forces have controlled the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk since 2014.) It is the second largest population center Russia has captured after Mariupol.
Seven months later, the Kremlin considers the Kherson region part of Russia, after pretending to annex it last month. And yet everyone, from Russia’s appointed leaders in the region to the new commander of its entire Ukrainian war effort, is sounding the alarm about its ability to withstand a Ukrainian offensive in the region.
Russia’s puppet administration promised that there were no plans to abandon the city of Kherson and that once the army “solved all the tasks” normal life would return.
In his remarks on Russian television, Surovikin, the Russian commander, repeated what has become a bit of a trope in Russian circles: that the Ukrainian army was preparing to shell downtown Kherson, even hit the roadblock which is part of a hydroelectric plant. at Nova Kakhovka, and unleash floodwaters on low-lying areas downstream.
Ukrainian officials dismissed this idea as Russian propaganda. It will not be easy for Ukraine to retake the city of Kherson if Russia seriously contests it, and the Ukrainian military will be reluctant to attack an urban center where tens of thousands of civilians may remain.
But the top ranks of the Ukrainian army remain optimistic about the Kherson offensive.
“We will make significant progress by the end of the year,” the head of Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence Agency, Major General Kyrylo Budanov, said on Tuesday.
“These will be important victories. You will see it soon.