KYIV, Ukraine — The first city to fall to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was thrown into chaos on Monday as Moscow-appointed officials began fleeing across the river to safer territory, while Russian soldiers appeared to be on the run. as he was preparing for war against advancing Ukrainian forces.
The government offices in Kherson were already used up with the necessary equipment. According to Ukrainian officials, videos on social media and accounts of Ukrainian activists speaking to people in Ukraine indicate that civilians have been asked by proxies loyal to the Kremlin to bring “resources”. materials, money, valuables and clothing” and evacuate.
And a few months after residents began complying with Moscow’s demands for them to adopt a new currency, some Kherson merchants had a new message for customers: No more rubles.
Within a week of invading Ukraine on February 24, the Russian army was firmly in control of the city of Kherson, to the south. And at the end of last month, the Kremlin went even further, announcing that it had merging the entire Kherson region and three other regions, even as its force is losing ground there. President Vladimir V. Putin said they are now part of “Mother Russia,” a claim rejected by most world leaders.
Billboards around the city still proclaim that “Kherson is forever in Russia,” but the gap between the big claim and the reality is stark.
With internet and other communications services in Kherson almost completely cut off, it was difficult on Monday to know exactly what was happening in the city. But leaked reports have added further evidence that Russian civilian authorities there are working on a plan to abandon their headquarters as Ukrainian forces continue to achieve tough victories in the offensive. their south.
However, the Russian military forces, despite earlier reports that their leaders have asked permission to redeploy the eastern bank of the Dnipro River, appear to have remained in place.
General Kyrylo O. Budanov, head of Ukraine’s military intelligence service, said in an interview with the Ukrainian news agency, Ukrainska Pravda, published on Monday. “They’re preparing to defend.”
The order to evacuate civilians, he said, shows that Moscow can get the city ready for urban combat.
“They are creating the illusion that everything is over,” said General Budanov. “At the same time, on the contrary, they are sending new military units there and preparing the streets of the city for defense.”
The loss of Kherson would be a major military and symbolic blow to Mr. Putin, who refused requests from his commanders on the ground from which they were allowed to retreat from the city. Located on the western bank of the Dnipro River, Kherson is the gateway to both Russian-administered Crimea to the south and Ukrainian Black Sea ports to the west, including Odesa.
Over the weekend, local leaders loyal to the Kremlin said that “all civil administration agencies and ministries” must be transferred to Dnipro. Station officials also said they would relocate about 60,000 civilians.
Moscow claims that as many as 20,000 people have fled, but Ukrainian officials put the number closer to 1,000 and say most are pro-Kremlin collaborators.
Serhii Khlan, deputy governor-in-exile of the Kherson region, said Moscow forces and local proxies had engaged in “violent looting,” stealing “everything of archaeological significance” and history”. Although his claims cannot be independently verified, looting by Russian forces in other parts of the country has been widely documented.
Kyiv has banned details of its southern offensive, but the Ukrainian army’s southern commander said on Monday that since launching the counteroffensive in late August, its forces have recaptured 90 towns and villages where more than 12,000 people still lived.
The military campaign was supported by weapons supplied by the United States and other Western countries, increasing tensions with Moscow.
On Monday, the top military commanders of both the United States and Russia spoke by phone, continuing high-level talks between Moscow and its NATO allies as Russia continues to fear nuclear escalation. in Ukraine. General Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke with his Russian counterpart, General Valery Gerasimov, Russia’s chief of staff, Pentagon officials said.
General Milley’s spokesman, Colonel Dave Butler, said in an emailed statement.
In recent days, Western officials have expressed concern over unfounded Russian claims that Ukraine is intending to use so-called dirty bombs on its territory. A dirty bomb uses conventional explosives to release radioactive material.
Over the weekend, top diplomats in France, Britain and the US, three of Ukraine’s most powerful allies, made a rare announcement. Joint statement rejected the claim, calling it a pretext Moscow made to escalate the war.
In their statement, the three governments confirmed that their defense ministers had spoken with their Russian counterpart, Sergei K. Shoigu, and denied “Russian false accusations.”
Russia has not publicly presented evidence to support the dirty bomb allegations, and Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, has called them “lies”.
Russian officials have been defaming Ukrainians and their leaders even before the invasion, presumably to create a basis for public support, but on Monday, it appeared even in Russia There are also limits.
On Monday, a Russian talk show host apologized after he was suspended by a state broadcaster widely regarded as the Kremlin mouthpiece for arguing that Ukrainian children should be put to death. drowned or burned in their home.
The presenter, Anton Krasovsky, broadcasting director of RT, said: “I apologize to everyone who has been stunned by this.
“It was just tasteless,” Mr. Krasovsky said in two statement posted to Telegramcalled remarks he made last week “myth and unimaginable”.
Marc Santorareported from Kyiv, and Eric Nagourney from New York. Helene Cooper reporting contributions from Washington, and Cora Engelbrecht from London.