ODESSA, Ukraine — Russian officials in occupied Kherson said they would begin mandatory resettlement of tens of thousands of residents from parts of the region as Ukraine continues its offensive to retake the south.
Officials said they would start relocating residents from the Kakhovsky district on the east bank of the Dnipro River from Sunday, as they claim the possibility of a Ukrainian attack on a strategic dam nearby.
Russia-appointed Kherson region governor Volodymyr Saldo said on Wednesday that up to 70,000 people would be transferred to southern parts of the region and Russia. A decree published a day earlier said residents would be relocated “by force”.
Evacuation efforts from Kherson have been ongoing for weeks, with Russia withdrawing some troops and collaborationist officials from the regional capital as Kyiv seeks to speed up its offensive to retake the area before the winter.
Analysts say there could be multiple motives behind the campaign, from minimizing the risk of spying among locals to clearing towns before fierce fighting ensues.
Some Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of using the local population as human shields as it moves troops and equipment from Kherson across the Dnieper to positions further from advancing Ukrainian troops, saying military vehicles are mixing with civilian convoys .
“They want to give the impression that this is a civilian evacuation. Surrounded by civilians, they know they have some level of security,” said a spokeswoman for the Southern Command of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
A bus with a sign saying children were on board dropped evacuated adults and children down in Dzhankoi, Crimea, on Wednesday.
Photo: ALEXEY PAVLISHAK/Portal
Photo: ALEXEY PAVLISHAK/Portal
But the new announcement of a forced relocation of residents is an escalation that comes amid signs a Russian withdrawal from the city may soon come.
Ukraine has denied claims made by Mr Saldo and Russian officials that it plans to blow up the Kakhovka Dam. Ukrainian officials said the allegations were part of an operation in which Moscow would sabotage the dam to make the area impassable to Ukrainian troops, but blamed Ukraine.
“The enemy resorts to intimidation of civilians,” the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said. “At the same time, the local population is being deprived of the means of communication.”
The General Staff said the headquarters of Russia’s occupation authorities in the Kherson region had been moved to Skadovsk, a town 40 miles south of the region’s capital on the Black Sea coast, which could be less affected by flooding if the dam were destroyed. Russia did not immediately comment on the allegation.
Kherson is the only capital of the region Moscow has taken since the start of its invasion in February, and Ukrainian forces are closing in on it. Supply lines to the city, which lies on the west bank of the Dnipro River, were severed after months of Ukrainian attacks deep behind enemy lines that damaged bridges and depots used by Moscow.
Last month, Russian-installed authorities in the region began moving civilians east across the river. Moscow’s transfer of residents from Kherson to Russia reflects similar dynamics in other parts of Ukraine it has occupied.
On Monday, Mr Saldo announced an extension of the evacuation, saying civilians would be relocated within a 15-kilometer radius of the Dnipro River. He said those forced to leave their homes would receive a one-time payment of 100,000 rubles, equivalent to about $1,600, as well as a housing allowance.
A satellite image shows the Kakhovka Dam on the Dnipro River.
Photo: MAXAR TECHNOLOGIES/via Portal
Ukraine is making slow progress against Russian forces, who have dug in deep around Kherson and have been reinforced by troops recruited as part of a major mobilization campaign launched by Moscow. However, military analysts said Ukraine was unlikely to attack the Kakhovka Dam, a move that would make it more difficult to reclaim territory in the region.
As Ukraine pushes to take Kherson, the Biden administration said Wednesday that North Korea is secretly supplying Russia with a significant number of artillery shells through indirect routes, including supplies through third countries in the Middle East and North Africa. The alleged supplies to Russia are unlikely to change the course of Ukraine’s efforts to defend its territory against Russian invasion, said White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby. Both sides seek additional weapons for a protracted conflict as winter approaches.
The fierce fighting in the south also comes amid continued Russian drone and missile attacks on energy infrastructure across Ukraine, aimed at leaving major cities without power as winter sets in and sapping Ukrainian morale.
Ukraine’s military intelligence service said the country’s armed forces had so far shot down more than 300 Iranian kamikaze drones used by Russia to attack objects in Ukraine. Iran was said to be preparing to ship about 200 more drones to Moscow, which would be assembled in Russia with Russian markings.
The Iranian government has repeatedly denied supplying Russia with weapons for use in Ukraine and says it is not involved in the conflict. Russia has denied that its armed forces have deployed Iranian-supplied drones in the country.
The strikes have left large parts of Ukraine without power as temperatures plummet. Analysts say Russian President Vladimir Putin may be betting on an erosion of Western support for Ukraine over the winter as the cost of living soars in the US and Europe.
“The terrorists’ bet on winter is obvious to everyone, and this challenge should be treated as a challenge for all of Europe,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address on Tuesday, referring to Russian authorities.
“They are hopeless on the battlefield – Ukrainian soldiers proved it,” he added. “But it will take time, effort and patience to show that the Russian terrorists’ bet on winter will not materialize.”
On Wednesday, the UN Security Council rejected Russia’s efforts to set up a commission to investigate its unsubstantiated claims that Ukraine and the US engaged in “military biological” activities in violation of the Biological Weapons Convention.
The US, Britain and France voted against the Russian resolution, while China, along with Russia, supported it. The other 10 nations in the council abstained.
Russia last week distributed a 310-page document to Council members alleging that Pentagon-backed biological activity was taking place in Ukraine. Both the governments in Kyiv and in Washington reject the allegations.
A woman waited for humanitarian aid in Izyum in the eastern Kharkiv region on Wednesday.
Photo: Dimitar Dilkoff/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
—Vivian Salama contributed to this article.
write to Matthew Luxmoore at [email protected]
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