TALLINN, Estonia (HPD) — Moscow-appointed authorities in the occupied Kherson region of southern Ukraine urged local residents on Friday to evacuate toward Russia as kyiv forces advanced on the area.
The move, announced a day earlier, indicates that Ukrainian military gains along the war’s southern front are worrying the Kremlin, which is struggling to consolidate its control over regions of Ukraine it illegally annexed last month. past.
The Russian authorities immediately promised free accommodation to those who followed the advice to leave Kherson.
The region’s Moscow-appointed leader, Vladimir Saldo, told Russian state television on Friday night that hundreds of people had asked to be evacuated. “We advise those who are afraid of the arrival of missiles, in order not to get in the way of the Russian army, to go to the Russian Federation,” he said.
Saldo said on Thursday that evacuations would take place in four cities, including the regional capital Kherson and Nova Kakhovka. The latter is almost on the line of contact between the Russian and Ukrainian forces.
Russian-installed authorities in the region tried to play down the seriousness of the situation, describing the evacuations as “humanitarian”, “welfare” and “holiday” trips to Russia, on a voluntary basis. For those willing to leave, buses and ferries have been made available, according to Saldo.
But the inhabitants painted a much less pleasant picture.
Konstantin, a resident of the city of Kherson who spoke on condition that his last name not be released for security reasons, told The Associated Press on Friday that columns of military trucks had begun moving through the city and eventually pulled out.
All schools were closed and most state institutions and local administrative bodies had reduced their working hours, he said.
“The mood in Kherson is not cheerful. The city is now on hold. Especially the Russian military from the barracks and the families of the collaborators are leaving,” Konstantin told the HPD. “Everyone is talking about the imminent arrival of the Ukrainian military and preparing for it.”
Russia has characterized the movement of Ukrainians to Russia or Russia-controlled territory as voluntary, but in many cases these are the only evacuation routes that inhabitants of the occupied areas can take or are allowed to use.
Reports have also emerged that some were forcibly deported to “filtration camps” where harsh conditions prevail.
In addition, an investigation by The Associated Press revealed that Russian officials deported thousands of Ukrainian children — some orphans, others living with foster families or in institutions — to be raised as Russians.
Oleh Zhdanov, a Ukrainian military expert, attributes the evacuation to “uncertainty as to whether the Russians will be able to hold the city” and lessons learned when soldiers from kyiv penetrated the occupation forces’ defenses in the Kharkiv region last month. , in northeastern Ukraine.
“The Russians fear that the stampede from the Kharkiv region, when military equipment and archives were abandoned, will be repeated in Kherson, and therefore they are preparing to leave in advance,” Zhdanov said.
Zhdanov stated that the Russians might be concerned that Ukraine will double the number of HIMARS rocket launch systems by the end of the month, which “would have a significant impact on the nature of the fighting in the south.”
“The pace of the Ukrainian advance in the Kherson region has slowed down a bit, but this only gives the Russians a little more time to evacuate. It does not stop the counterattack on Kherson and the region,” Zhdanov said. “It’s a matter of a few weeks, a month at most.”
Reports about preparations for the evacuation of civilians also came from the city of Melitopol, which is in the occupied part of the Zaporizhia region, which borders Kherson to the east.
Melitopol Mayor Ivan Fedorov told reporters Friday that security officers, people working with the Russian-installed authorities, and building managers “have already received information about the need to evacuate” and “have received evacuation routes.”
Fedorov pointed out that the Russians were not allowing Ukrainians to pass from the occupied areas into Ukrainian-controlled territory through the key Vasylivka checkpoint, where more than 1,000 cars and more than 4,000 people were queuing on Friday.
“The situation is not improving. Every day is worse because the number of people who want to go out increases every day, and the (Russians) just won’t let them go out,” Fedorov said.
Melitopol, with a prewar population of 150,000, was one of the first major cities to fall to Russian forces in March.
Military analysts predicted that Melitopol and Berdyansk would become the main targets of the Ukrainian army in the coming days.
“The Russians are very afraid that the Ukrainians may create a reserve and move from Zaporizhia to Melitopol, and if they succeed, the entire southern part held by the Russians will collapse and all Putin’s achievements and victories will evaporate,” he said. Ukrainian analyst Zhdanov.