Ukraine war: Moscow-installed authorities urge Kherson residents to leave ‘immediately’

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Moscow-installed authorities urged residents in the southern Kherson region — which the Kremlin claims to have annexed — to leave the main city “immediately” in the face of Kyiv’s advancing counter-offensive. 

“Due to the tense situation on the front, the increased danger of mass shelling of the city and the threat of terrorist attacks, all civilians must immediately leave the city and cross to the left bank of the Dnipro river,” the region’s Russian-installed authorities said on social media on Saturday. 

A Moscow-installed official in Kherson, Kirill Stremousov, told the Russian news agency Interfax that around 25,000 people had made the crossing. 

Kyiv’s forces have been advancing along the west bank of the Dnipro river towards the Kherson region’s eponymous main city. 

On Friday, Ukrainian forces bombarded Russian positions across the province, inching closer to a full assault on its capital as they targeted Kremlin-backed forces’ resupply routes across the Dnipro River.

Russian-installed officials were reported desperately trying to turn the city into a fortress while attempting to relocate tens of thousands of residents.

The Kremlin poured as many as 2,000 draftees into the surrounding region to replenish losses and strengthen front-line units, according to the Ukrainian army’s general staff.

Kherson’s Kremlin-installed authorities previously announced plans to evacuate all Russian-installed officials and as many as 60,000 civilians across the river in what local leader Volodymyr Saldo said would be an “organized, gradual displacement,” otherwise described as “deportations” by Kyiv.

At a train station in the town of Dzhankoy in the north of Crimea, a peninsula that Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014, Kherson residents were boarding a train for southern Russia, an AFP reporter saw Friday.

“We are leaving Kherson because heavy shelling started there. We are afraid for our lives,” said Valentina Yelkina, a pensioner travelling with her daughter. 

Another Kherson resident, 70-year-old Yelena Bekesheva, said she was going to Moscow. 

“We didn’t immediately make the decision (to leave), but then we were invited by our friends and relatives,” she told AFP. 

Kherson has been in Russian hands since the early days of the invasion in February.

The city is the capital of a region of the same name, one of four that Russian President Vladimir Putin illegally annexed last month and then placed under Moscow’s martial law.

The Dnipro 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.