Civilians in ‘annexed’ Kherson urged to flee to Russia as Ukrainians advance
- Governor of Russian region says all residents of Kherson are welcome
- Kherson is one of four provinces Russia claims to have annexed
- Ukraine defends Bakhmut in the east in “brutal” fights -Zelenskiy
KYIV/KUPIANSK, Ukraine, Oct 14 (Reuters) – Evacuees from the Kherson region of southern Ukraine were due to start arriving in Russia on Friday after a Moscow-based official suggested residents leave for security reasons, a sign of the weakening of Moscow’s hold on the territory it claims. to have annexed.
“We suggested that all residents of the Kherson region, if they wish, to protect themselves from the consequences of missile strikes (…) go to other regions,” said the head of the Russian administration in Kherson, Vladimir Saldo, in a video message. People should “leave with their children”.
The offer applied primarily to residents of the western bank of the Dnipro River, he said. This includes the regional capital, the only major Ukrainian city that Russia has captured intact since its invasion in February.
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The first civilians fleeing Kherson were expected to arrive in Russia’s Rostov region on Friday, TASS news agency reported.
Kherson is one of four partially occupied Ukrainian provinces that Russia claims to have annexed in recent weeks, and arguably the most strategically important. It controls both the only land route to the Crimean peninsula which Russia seized in 2014, and the mouth of the Dnipro, the 2,200 kilometer (1,367 mile) long river that bisects Ukraine. .
Since the beginning of October, Ukrainian forces have crossed Russian front lines in their biggest advance south since the start of the war. They have since advanced rapidly along the West Bank, aiming to cut off Russian troops from supply lines and escape routes running through it.
TASS quoted the governor of Rostov, which borders Ukrainian territories Russia claims to have annexed, as saying his region was ready to welcome anyone who chose to leave Kherson.
Ukraine’s armed forces have taken over more than 600 settlements in the past month, including 75 in the strategic Kherson region, the government said. Read more
Reuters was unable to independently verify the report.
BLOW AT THE REQUEST OF ANNEX
An escape of civilians from Kherson would be a blow to Russia’s claim last month to have annexed around 15% of Ukrainian territory and incorporated an area the size of Portugal into Russia.
Russia assigned many of its best-trained troops to the defense of the western bank of Kherson. But this force can only be provided on the other side of the river, which is several kilometers wide and little crossed.
Mykolaiv, the nearest major Ukrainian city to Kherson, came under heavy Russian bombardment on Thursday, with civilian facilities hit, local officials said.
Regional Governor Vitaly Kim said the top two floors of a five-story residential building had been destroyed and the rest was under rubble. Video footage provided by state emergency services showed rescuers pulling out an 11-year-old boy who Kim said had spent six hours trapped under rubble.
In the east, three Russian missiles exploded on Thursday morning near the central market in Kupiansk, an important rail junction town that Ukrainian forces recaptured in September.
The missiles destroyed shops, carpeted the surrounding streets with shards of glass, rubble and twisted sheet metal.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a video address on Thursday that ‘brutal’ fighting continued in the wine and salt-growing town of Bakhmut in the eastern Donetsk region, another area Russia has tried to annex .
Zelenskiy said Ukrainian troops were defending Bakhmut with “skillful and heroic actions”.
He also accused the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) of inaction in defending the rights of Ukrainian prisoners of war and urged it to undertake a mission to a camp in the Russian-occupied east of the country. .
In the latest in a series of Ukrainian criticisms of the ICRC, he said no one had yet visited Olenivka – a notorious camp in eastern Ukraine where dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war died in an explosion and fire in July.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has responded to battlefield setbacks with dramatic steps to escalate the conflict: proclaiming the annexation of territory, calling up hundreds of thousands of reservists and repeatedly threatening to use nuclear weapons to protect the Russia.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday after a two-day meeting of defense ministers that the alliance would not drop its support for Ukraine because of Moscow’s nuclear threats. Many countries have pledged new military aid to Ukraine.
“They know that if they use (a) nuclear weapon against Ukraine, it will have serious consequences,” Stoltenberg told reporters.
This week, Russia launched the largest airstrikes since the start of the war, firing more than 100 cruise missiles mainly at Ukraine’s electrical and thermal infrastructure. Putin said the strikes were retaliation for Saturday’s explosion that damaged the Russian bridge to Crimea.
Ukraine’s chief prosecutor said on Thursday his office had opened a criminal case into Russian missile strikes that hit Kyiv and cities across Ukraine this week.
Attorney General Andriy Kostin said the more than 112 Russian strikes killed 17 people and injured 93.
“The aim of Russia’s deliberate attacks is to cause civilian deaths and destroy civilian infrastructure … to cause a humanitarian catastrophe,” Kostin said.
“Coupled with intimidation tactics against civilians, this is a classic act of terror prohibited by international law.
Russia denies that it targets civilians.
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Reports from Reuters offices; Writing by Cynthia Osterman and Stephen Coates; Editing by Grant McCool and Michael Perry
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