More people flee Ukraine’s Kherson as Russian occupiers renew warnings

Oleshki, Russian-controlled Ukraine, Oct. 22 (Reuters) – Russian occupation officials in the Ukrainian city of Kherson told the public on Saturday that Ukraine’s forces must withdraw immediately due to a tense military situation as they advance.

Thousands of civilians have been fleeing across the Dnipro River for days after warnings of a Ukrainian offensive to retake the city. The latest warning was delivered with renewed urgency.

“Take care of the safety of your family and friends! Don’t forget documents, money, valuables and clothes,” Russian-installed officials said.

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In Oleshki, on the opposite bank of the Dnipro, Reuters saw people arriving on riverboats from Kherson laden with boxes, bags and pets. A woman carries an infant under one arm and a dog under the other.

Some boats were loaded with vegetables and food pallets. Employees of Russia’s Emergencies Ministry carried the elderly and children from the ships in trolleys. Families waited to board buses to Russia-annexed Crimea.

“I don’t really want to (leave), I’m still at work,” one resident told Reuters. “We wanted to stay in the area, but now we don’t know.”

The battle for Kherson, which has been under Russian control throughout the nearly eight-month war, appears to be reaching a critical juncture as advancing Ukrainian forces threaten to push back Russian troops on the west bank of the Dnipro.

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The head of the Russian-founded region said this week that Russia plans to evacuate 10,000 residents a day from Kherson, and that Russia is preparing to take in residents in anticipation of a counteroffensive from Ukraine.

Despite the latest warning, occupation authorities on Saturday invited people in the city to attend an “Evening of Russian Literature, Music and Art” at Kherson’s Palace of Culture, reading a book and playing a band.

Ukraine has imposed a blackout on information from the Kherson front, but Russian commander Sergei Surovykin said this week that the situation in Kherson was “already difficult” and that Russia was “not ruling out tough decisions” there.

At a briefing on Saturday, the Russian Defense Ministry said its forces had repelled a Ukrainian attempt to breach its line of control in the Kherson region. Reuters could not independently confirm the battlefield claims.

Kherson is the only provincial capital that Russia has retained intact since the February 24 invasion. The Kherson region is one of four that President Vladimir Putin said last month Moscow would “always” claim as its own territory.

Putin has said that he is ready to use nuclear weapons if necessary to protect what Russia claims as its own land. The announced annexation was condemned as illegal by Ukraine, its allies and the United Nations General Assembly.

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By Caleb Davies and Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Edmund Blair

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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