Russians Flee From Front-line Of Kherson, Moved Back To Dnieper River

In this handout photo released by Kooperativ Telegram Channel, flames and smoke rise from the scene after a warplane crashed into a residential area in Yeysk, Russia. (AP)

Pro-Russian officials are leaving the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson on Wednesday ahead of an advance on the city by Kyiv’s forces.

The region’s Moscow-installed head, Vladimir Saldo, told Russian state television that the administration was moving to the east bank of the Dnieper river, Agence France-Presse reported.

There were reports on social media that Russian intelligence service (FSB) officers and Chechen troops fighting for President Vladimir Putin’s forces had already begun to leave the city between two and three days ago.

Kherson is the capital of the region of the same name and is on the western bank of the river, as are Ukrainian troops. It was the first major city to fall to Russian forces and its recapture would be a major gain for Ukraine.

Saldo said that up to 60,000 civilians would leave in an “organized, gradual displacement” in a move which Ukraine has called on people to ignore, the BBC reported.

Saldo said the withdrawal, including the movement of civilians from the city, was a precaution and Russian forces would continue to fight. The transfer of civilians by an occupying power from occupied territory is considered a war crime.

Kirill Stremousov, the deputy head of the occupied government in Kherson, said on his Telegram social media channel that the battle for the city “will begin in the very near future,” with Ukraine’s forces having advanced about 19 miles towards the city, according to the BBC.

On Tuesday night, residents started receiving text messages, urging them to evacuate immediately to avoid shelling of residential areas by Ukrainian forces.

Russia’s military commander for Ukraine operations, General Sergei Surovikin, said the Russian army would ensure “the safe evacuation of the population” and that Ukrainian strikes targeting civilian infrastructure “create a direct threat to the lives of residents.”

But Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, rejected Russia’s claims they would take 60,000 people out of Kherson for safety reasons.

“The Russians are trying to scare the people of Kherson with fake newsletters about the shelling of the city by our army, and also arrange a propaganda show with evacuation,” he wrote on Telegram. Newsweek has contacted the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry for comment.

Separately, Putin declared martial law on Wednesday in the Kherson region, along with the other three oblasts he has claimed to have annexed—Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia.

Putin said that the regions’ Russian-appointed leaders will also be granted “additional authority,” although the borders will not be closed. The decree gives authorities power to impose curfews, travel and residence restrictions, military censorship and more.

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