UKRAINE. Kyiv: A Russian-installed official in southern Ukraine said Moscow would likely withdraw its troops from the west bank of the Dnipro river in Kherson. The official has also urged the civilians to retreat to safer ground before the area becomes a deadly warzone.
Moscow’s supposed plan to turn back from the west marks a great setback for Russia’s war.
The Russian-backed deputy civilian administrator of the Kherson region, Kirill Stremousov, spoke to a pro-Russia news outlet called Soloyov Line on Thursday, where he declared: “Most likely our units, our soldiers, will leave for the left (eastern) bank.”
Following reports of Moscow’s likely troop withdrawal, senior officials in Moscow remained silent. At the same time, Kyiv and Western military experts stayed on high alert, fearing a surprise trap for Ukrainian troops marching towards that region.
The area in question includes the capital of the Kherson region, Kherson city, and the only major city that Russia has been able to capture intact since the inception of the “special military operation”.
Russian troop base also includes one side of a dam across the Dnipro river, which is a critical water source for irrigation in Crimea, the peninsula Russia annexed and seized back in 2014.
Previously, Russia had dismissed reports of a potential withdrawal of troops from the area, but Stremousov was more ambiguous in his television interview.
“We have to take some very difficult decisions now. Whatever our strategy might be. And some people might be afraid to recognize things.”
“But for me, it is very important to try to say at the moment – People, please go over to the east bank. You will be in a far safer position,” Stremousov said.
Stremousov also expressed hope that the Russian military would stand its ground in the Kherson region to retain its image as the winning side in this war.
He hoped “that we will not leave Kherson,” and if that were to happen, “it will be a big blow not only in terms of the image of us all but a big blow for people who could stay here.”
Speculations began to circulate on social media after photos on the internet showed an administrative building in Kherson city no longer flourishing the Russian flag. Kyiv has dismissed these reports, suspecting foul play and a perfect ground for a deadly trap.
A spokesperson for Ukraine’s southern military command, Natalia Humeniuk, said: “This could be a manifestation of a particular provocation, to create the impression that the settlements are abandoned, that it is safe to enter them, while they are preparing for street battles.”
Meanwhile, continued Russian shelling overnight has struck more than 35 towns, with over 30 reconnaissance missions carried out by drones.
Russian authorities in occupied regions of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia have conducted a “mass forced movement of residents” to “the territory of temporarily occupied Crimea or to the Russian Federation.”
In the past few weeks, Ukraine has accused Russia of war crimes against humanity for its inhumane targeting of civilians and critical infrastructure, causing millions to displace, killing thousands, and destroying cities and towns.
Persistent Russian shelling has heavily compromised the energy facilities in the capital city of Kyiv and 10 other regions, causing power cuts in over 4.5 million households.
Temperatures are set to fall below the freezing point in winter, just a few weeks away.