The Russian-installed leader of Ukraine’s southern Kherson region, Vladimir Saldo, has called on civilians to evacuate, citing daily rocket attacks by advancing Ukrainian forces.
He urged them to “save themselves” by going to Russia for “leisure and study”, and asked for Moscow’s help. His call was later backed up by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin in a message on state television.
Ukraine rejects accusations that it targets its own civilians. Its troops have recently retaken some areas of north-western Kherson, closing in on the regional capital, Kherson city.
“The government took the decision to organise assistance for the departure of residents of the Kherson region to other regions of the country,” said Mr Khusnullin, who has special responsibility for southern Russia and Crimea. “We will provide everyone with free accommodation and everything necessary.”
The first group of people from Kherson would arrive on Friday in Russia’s Rostov region, said its governor Vasily Golubev according to Russian state news agency, Tass. “The Rostov region will accept and accommodate everyone who wants to come to us from the Kherson region,” he added.
Among other weaponry, Kyiv has been using US-supplied Himars rocket systems to great effect. They have targeted key Russian-held military targets and threatened to cut off the bulk of the occupying forces on the west bank of the Dnieper river (known as Dnipro in Ukraine).
Kherson is the only regional capital seized by Russian forces since Moscow’s invasion began on 24 February. Ukraine’s military has been tight-lipped about its troop advances in the key region that borders Crimea – the southern Ukrainian peninsula annexed by Moscow in 2014.
Speaking on Thursday, Mr Saldo said many towns in the region, including the two major cities of Kherson and Nova Kakhovka were now under daily rocket attacks by Ukrainian troops. “Such strikes are causing serious damage,” he said, urging residents across the whole region – and especially those on the west bank of the Dnieper river – to evacuate to Russia or Crimea.
And he appealed to the government in Moscow to help organise the process. “Russia is not abandoning its people,” he stressed, using a popular saying.
Earlier this month, President Putin declared the annexation of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions in Ukraine’s south, as well as Donetsk and Luhansk in the east. Ukraine and its Western allies condemned the move, saying it had no legal power. The Kremlin does not fully control any of the four regions.