A pro-Russian leader in southern Ukraine said Moscow was likely to withdraw its soldiers from the west bank of the river. Dnieper in Khersonand urged the civilian population to withdraw, which could indicate a withdrawal that would be a setback for the Russian war.
Moscow’s top officials were silent. The kyiv government and Western military analysts remained cautious, suggesting that Russia might be laying a trap to the Ukrainian soldiers.
“Most likely, our units, our soldiers, will leave for the left (eastern) bank,” he said. Kirill Stremousovthe Russian-appointed deputy civil administrator of the Kherson region, in an interview Thursday with Solovyov Livea pro-Kremlin online media outlet.
The area includes the city of Kherson, capital of the region of the same name and the only major city Russia has captured and held since its invasion in February. It also includes one side of a dam across the Dnieper that controls the supply of water for irrigation crimeathe peninsula that Russia has occupied since 2014.
Previously, Russia had denied that its forces were planning to withdraw from the area.
In extensive comments on Thursday night in a program organized by television RTStremousov was somewhat more equivocal, saying: “We have to take some very difficult decisions now. Whatever our strategy. And some people may be afraid to acknowledge things.”
“But for me it is very important to try to say at this moment: “People, please go to the east bank. They will be in a much safer position,” Stremousov said.
At another point, Stremousov said he hopes “we don’t leave Kherson” and that if that happens, “it will be a big shock not only in terms of the image of all of us, but a big shock for the people who could stay here.”
There was speculation that Russia might actually pull out, after photos circulated online showing the main administrative building in the city of Kherson without the Russian flag on top. Ukraine said those images could be Russian disinformation.
Natalia Humeniuka spokesman for the military command of southern Ukraine, said it could be a russian trap.
“This could be a manifestation of a particular provocation, in order to create the impression that the settlements are abandoned, that it is safe to enter them, while preparing for street battles,” he said in televised comments.
More attacks, power outages
In the last 24 hours, the Russian military have launched three missile strikes and 16 air strikes against Ukrainian targets, as well as more than 40 bombardmentsthe Ukrainian army reported in a statement on Thursday evening.
On the southern front, Russian fire reached more than 35 locations and more than 30 reconnaissance missions took place with drones, according to the statement.
Ukrainian aviation carried out 12 attacks against eight occupied zones by Russia in which men and equipment were concentrated, reaching four anti-aircraft units, the military said. Ukrainian artillery also attacked three areas with men and equipment and two ammunition depots, he said.
Reuters he was unable to verify battlefield reports.
A statement from the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry accused the Russian authorities of carrying out “massive forced movements of residents” in the Kherson and Zaporizhia provinces in the south, and in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions in the east.” to the territory of temporarily occupied Crimea or to the Russian Federation.”
Ukraine has accused the Russian army of war crimes during the eight months of war.
His attacks in recent weeks on Ukraine’s power and water supplies have hit civilians hard as winter approaches, according to the kyiv government. As of Thursday night, 4.5 million Ukrainians in the capital kyiv and 10 other regions were temporarily without power, in the latest blackouts caused by Russian strikes, President Volodimir Zelensky said in a video address.
Temperatures can drop well below freezing in the winter, now just a few weeks away.
The United States Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austinsaid he believed Ukrainian forces could retake Kherson, in perhaps his most optimistic comments on the counteroffensive to date.
A senior Western official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said some Russian military commanders had relocated across the river to the east.
“In Kherson, most of the commanders have probably retreated to the other side of the river, leaving the soldiers quite demoralized and, in some cases, leaderless, to face the Ukrainians on the other side,” he said.
Russia has been fighting for months to keep the territory it holds on the western bank of the mouth of the Dnieper River, which divides Ukraine.
Ukraine has attacked the main passages of the river for months, making it difficult to supply the Russian army on the west bank. Ukrainian soldiers have been advancing along the river since early October, although their progress had slowed in recent days.
Ukrainian troops who were on the front lines last week, visited by ReutersThey said they saw no signs that the Russian army was withdrawing and believed that they were, in fact, strengthening.
Michael Kofmanan American expert on the Russian military who just returned from the Ukrainian side of the Kherson front, said Moscow’s intentions were unclear.
“The situation in Kherson is crystal clear,” tweeted Kofman, director of Russia studies at the Center for Naval Analysis.
(By Pavel Polityuk and Tom Balmforth – Reuters)
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