KYIV, Ukraine – Russian forces occupying the southern Ukrainian port city of Kherson have blown up civilian ships in an attempt to prevent the Ukrainian military from using them if they try to retake the city, according to reports. Ukrainian officials and Western military analysts.
Ukraine’s military high command on Saturday also warned that Russia is actively “trying to identify local residents who refuse to evacuate” as Moscow aims to prevent people from being able to assist Ukrainian forces. is pushing hard into Kherson. This claim cannot be independently verified immediately.
Russian occupation forces in the city ordered the “evacuation” of all civilians last month, before destroying vital infrastructure, shutting down essential services and loot the city, according to Ukrainian citizens and officials.
With a possible battle for the city, the strategy behind Russia’s latest maneuvers – and the state of the city – is shrouded in the fog of war. Such moves, aimed at gaining a tactical advantage, were driven by the ever-changing political and military calculations that defined the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine.
“The situation in Kherson is as clear as mud,” said Michael Kofman, director of Russian studies at CNA, a research institute in Arlington, Va., wrote in an analysis this week. “Russian forces appear to have withdrawn from some sections, evacuated and retreated, but also reinforced with mobilized personnel.”
Kherson was the only regional capital captured by the Russians during the war. Just a month after President Vladimir Putin of Russia declared an illegal annexation, the Kremlin-approved government there has abandoned the city and is setting up a new headquarters some 50 kilometers southeast. , according to the Ukrainian military.
In recent days, the obvious presence of Russian forces in the city has disappeared, with residents reporting empty checkpoints and the apparent absence of Russian patrols. But the Ukrainian military and top government officials suggest that Moscow may be trying to create the illusion of abandoning the city in order to lure Ukrainians to join the brutal urban fighting.
Natalia Humeniuk, press officer for Ukraine’s Southern Command, on Saturday said the situation is so complicated that Moscow’s forces may not be able to understand it. “They are trying to create the impression of multifaceted development: They are both entrenched and evacuated,” she said.
Despite Russia’s efforts to convince the Ukrainians that they are withdrawing, “we see objective data that they are still in place,” she said.
The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said this week that even as the Russians “continue to prepare existing and new lines of defense” they are “setting conditions for a controlled withdrawal”. The destruction of civilian ships was part of that preparation, the analysts wrote.
The conditions for civilians to stay in the city are unclear, and Kirill Stremousov, one of the heads of the Kremlin-appointed occupation management agency, has offered conflicting statements about the situation. On Friday night, he posted a statement on the messaging app Telegram saying that all residents had been ordered not to leave their homes – before deleting the message and saying there was “no limit” in the city.
Mr. Stremousov and other proxies have repeatedly made contradictory and untrue statements.
The looting of the city matched the pattern seen in other areas previously occupied by Russian forces. The Kherson Museum of Art said in a statement Friday that Russian soldiers in civilian clothes raided the building and took away valuable items, loading them onto trucks and school buses. .
According to local officials, the actions of Russian forces are also causing ecological damage. Yaroslav Yanushevych, head of the Kherson regional military administration, said the destruction of the ships had released oil into the waterways that flow into the Dnipro river delta and the protected area of a natural park. national nature. The release of such toxins could poison the ecologically rich region for decades, he said.