MOSCOW.- The Russian President, Vladimir Putin, said on friday civilians in the Ukrainian region of Kherson must be evacuated from areas “most dangerous” of conflict, the first recognition of the head of the Kremlin on the strong progress of the counteroffensive in Kiev in a region Moscow claims to have annexed. and the foretaste of what Ukraine considers may be a “brutal battle”
“Those who currently live in Kherson must be removed from the most dangerous combat zonesPutin declared during a short ceremony in Moscow’s Red Square to mark the Day of National Unity.
“The civilian population should not be bombed as a result of offensive, counter-offensive and other measures”, he added during an exchange with Russian volunteers involved in the Kherson region, in southern Ukraine, a Ukrainian territory whose annexation Moscow has demanded since the end of September has.
Putin’s comment, which came spontaneously after an activist told the Russian president about his work delivering Russian flags to Kherson, was shown on state television and reported by the state news agency RIA.
Last week, the Russian occupying forces already indicated this 70,000 civilians fled their homes located in the west on the right bank of the river and closer to the front line.
Putin spoke after Moscow-appointed authorities in the occupied Kherson region in the south of the country reported that Russian troops were able to leave the homonymous city, a claim Ukrainian officials have with some skepticism.
The Kremlin-installed regional government has already driven tens of thousands of civilians out of the city due to the threat posed by increased shelling as the Ukrainian military advances its counteroffensive to retake Kherson. one of the four Ukrainian provinces that Putin declared part of Ukrainian Russia at a ceremony in the Kremlin in September.
On Thursday, authorities removed the Russian flag from the Kherson administrative building, a week after the expulsion of the officials.
According to the spokesperson of the Kyiv army in the south, Natalia Humeniuk, the withdrawal of the flag could be a ruse and “We shouldn’t be in a hurry to celebrate.” Speaking to Ukrainian television, he noted that some Russian soldiers were posing as civilians.
The Russian-appointed deputy governor of Kherson, Kirill Stremousov, issued several video calls on Thursday for civilians to leave the part of the province on the west bank of the Dnieper River. Said Russian forces were likely to hand over the western bank of the Dnipro to Ukraine soon.
Meantime, The New York Times stated that, according to Ukrainian military intelligence, Russia had deployed some 40,000 soldiers on the west bank of the Dnipro River to prevent the Ukrainian army from retaking Kherson.
“As Ukrainian forces advance from the north and west, they are met with fierce resistance, and Ukrainian officials said they expected the battle for the southern city to be brutal, since its loss would be a great strategic and symbolic loss for President Putin”, the American newspaper mentions.
The Kherson region, most of which Russia has controlled since shortly after it launched its military campaign in Ukraine on February 24, is considered strategically crucial, as it controls both land access and much of the water supply to Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014. It remains the only regional capital Russia has captured since February.
On the other hand, Putin signed today a decree eliminating the ban on enlistment in the military for citizens who have “not served or suspended” a sentence for a crime considered “serious.” This was reported by the Interfax agency, which specified that the ban still applies to those convicted of child abuse and other crimes.
In his message this Friday, Putin announced this 318,000 new soldiers joined the ranks of the armed forces of the country under the call for mass mobilization that began in September. Most were still training, but 49,000 were already in combat, he said.
Agencies AFP, AP, ANSA, Reuters and The New York Times