Russian officials have given civilians in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson the order to evacuate as Kyiv’s forces push to retake Russian-controlled territory in the south. Kherson, claimed by Vladimir Putin’s forces in early March, has been one of the main focus areas for the Ukrainian counter-offensive since the end of August.
Ukrainian forces have been pushing south along the Dnipro River since the counter-offensive got underway, managing to leverage a Russian retreat from several key settlements earlier this month.
Putin’s military forces have lost up to 30 km, or 30 miles, of ground in the south of Ukraine in recent weeks.
Kirill Stremousov, the Russian-backed deputy administrator for the region, said on Tuesday night that Ukrainian forces “will shortly begin an offensive against the city of Kherson”.
Posting on Telegram, he wrote: “I ask you to take my words seriously and take them to mean: the fastest possible evacuation.”
He continued: “In the very near future, the battle for Kherson will begin.”
On Wednesday morning, he reiterated the plea for civilians to evacuate.
He added: “Move as fast as possible, please, to the left bank.”
Vladimir Saldo, the Kherson region’s Russian-appointed governor, echoed that residents of the west bank of the Dnipro were most at risk.
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Authorities across Kherson have been sending emergency text alerts to the population, the Moscow state media added.
Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, warned Russian soldiers to “run” for their lives as Kyiv’s forces started to retake key villages in the summer.
He said in his nightly address back in August: “The occupiers should know we shall oust them to the border, the line of which has not changed.”
He added: “If they want to survive, it’s time for the Russian military to run away. Go home.”
Along with the regions of Luhansk, Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia, the Kherson oblast was inducted into Russian territory by Putin after a set of sham referendums in September.
But the Russian forces still lack control over the entirety of the territories they now claim to be part of Russia.