Putin appointed Russian staff fleeing Kherson oblast in fear of Ukrainian counteroffensive

An image shows a snow-covered field and houses destroyed by shelling on February 1, 2023, in Bilohirka, Kherson Oblast, Ukraine. The smaller image shows Ukrainian soldiers loading a cannon on January 9, 2023, in Kherson, Ukraine. Ukraine’s military staff on Monday said Kremlin-backed leaders in occupied cities located in the Kherson region had fled due to fears of a Ukrainian counteroffensive. Photos by Yurii Tynnyi/Suspilne Ukraine/JSC "UA:PBC"/Global Images Ukraine/Pierre Crom/Getty Images

The General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces on Monday reported that Kremlin-installed authorities in Kherson Oblast were fleeing the region in order to escape a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

In an update on Facebook, the General Staff wrote that “[d]ue to fears of de-occupation of Ukrainian territories,” Moscow’s officials in the Russian-occupied cities of Oleshka and Skadovsk in Kherson were departing for Crimea.

Kherson was one of four Ukrainian territories that Russian President Vladimir Putin illegitimately annexed in September after most of the province had fallen to his forces in the early months of the invasion. In November, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s military retook control of the city of Kherson in what was characterized as a major defeat for Russia, though settlements throughout the region remain occupied by Putin’s troops.

The General Staff’s message further noted that the Kremlin’s proxy officials who had departed the Kherson cities had begun leaving for the Crimean cities of Bakhchysarai, Simferopol and Kerch on February 21.

“To transport collaborators, the enemy deployed military trucks [and] only hand luggage is allowed to be taken,” the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces wrote on Facebook.

In recent weeks, prominent Ukrainian officials and Western officials have publicly discussed a planned spring counteroffensive by Zelensky’s forces.

On February 14, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters that the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, an alliance of 54 countries supporting the defense of Ukraine, would help Kyiv “hold and advance during the spring counter-offensive.” A day later, Vadym Prystaiko, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, also spoke of NATO nations training Ukraine’s troops abroad for a planned counteroffensive.

Vadym Skibitsky, deputy head of Ukrainian military intelligence, said in an interview with the German outlet Deutsche Welle (DW) published this weekend that a spring counteroffensive would seek “to liberate all the occupied territories of Ukraine, including Crimea.”

Elsewhere in its Monday update, the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces wrote that Russia’s military is experiencing mass desertions, resulting in Russian commanders undergoing more efforts to keep soldiers from leaving their posts.

The General Staff also said it the Ukrainian military had repelled 81 Russian attacks over a period of 24 hours in northeastern and eastern Ukraine. This included the reported downing of 11 out of 14 Russian drones launched to attack Ukrainian cities.

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