Ukrainian Forces Inch Closer To Kherson As Moscow Resumes Evacuations
Russian and Ukrainian troops are preparing for a major battle over the strategic southern industrial port city of Kherson, the centre of one of four regions Russian President Vladimir Putin has illegally annexed and subjected to martial law.
Fighting and evacuations were reported in the Kherson region on Thursday as Moscow tried to pound the invaded country into submission with more missile and drone attacks on critical infrastructure.
Putin declared martial law on the annexed regions of Kherson, Luhansk, Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia regions on Wednesday in an attempt to assert Russian authority there as he faced battlefield setbacks, a troubled troop mobilisation, increasing criticism at home and abroad, and international sanctions.
The unsettled status of the illegally absorbed territory was especially visible in the Kherson region’s capital, where Russian military officials have replaced Kremlin-installed civilian leaders as part of martial law that took effect Thursday to defend against a Ukrainian counteroffensive.
‘Situation is tense’
Kherson city, with a prewar population of about 284,000, was one of the first urban areas Russia captured when it invaded Ukraine, and it remains the largest city it holds.
It is a prime target for both sides because of its key industries and major river port. Reports of sabotage and assassinations of Russian-installed officials in Kherson have surfaced for months in what appeared to be one of the most active Ukrainian resistance movements in occupied territory.
Russian-installed officials have urged residents to evacuate for their safety and to allow the military to build fortifications. Officials said 15,000 residents of an expected 60,000 had been relocated from the city and surrounding areas as of Thursday.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office said Thursday that Ukrainian forces mounted 15 attacks on Russian military strongholds in the Kherson region.
For its part, Russia’s Defence Ministry spokesman said the Kremlin’s forces repelled Ukrainian attempts to advance with tanks on the Kherson villages of Sukhanove, Nova Kamianka and Chervonyi Yar.
A Russian-installed official in the region, Vladimir Leontyev, said on Thursday that Ukrainian forces had launched five missile strikes against the Kakhovka dam and hydroelectric power station about 70 kilometres from Kherson city.
He said on Russian TV that if the facilities were destroyed, a critical canal providing water to annexed Crimea would be cut off.
Zelenskyy countered that the Russians had mined the dam and power station, with plans to blow them up in what he called a terrorism act to unleash 18 million cubic metres and flood Kherson and dozens of areas where hundreds of thousands of people live. He told the European Council Russia would then blame Ukraine.
Russia’s new military commander in Ukraine this week acknowledged the threat posed by Ukraine’s counteroffensive to Kherson.
General Sergei Surovikin claimed that Ukrainian forces were using HIMARS rockets to strike the city, adding that “As a whole the situation in the (war) zone can be described as tense.”
UK Defence Ministry interpreted his words on Thursday to mean that Russian authorities are considering “a major withdrawal of their forces” from all areas west of the Dnipro river.