Russian-installed authorities in Ukraine have advised residents of Kherson city to leave “immediately” ahead of an expected advance by Ukrainian troops.
The regional administration posted a message on the Telegram app on Saturday urging civilians to leave the city, citing an anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive to recapture one of the first urban areas Russia took after invading the country.
Kherson has been in Russian hands since the early days of the nearly 8-month-long invasion of Ukraine. It is the capital of a region of the same name, one of four that Russian President Vladimir Putin illegally annexed last month and put under Russian martial law on Thursday.
On Friday, Ukrainian forces bombarded Russian positions across the province, targeting pro-Kremlin forces’ resupply routes across the Dnieper River and preparing for a final push to reclaim the city.
The Ukrainian military has reclaimed broad areas in the north of the region since launching a counteroffensive in late August. It reported new successes on Saturday, saying Russian troops were forced to retreat from the villages of Charivne and Chkalove in the Beryslav district.
Kherson’s Kremlin-backed authorities previously announced plans to evacuate all Russian-appointed officials and as many as 60,000 civilians across the river, in what local leader Vladimir Saldo said would be an “organised, gradual displacement.”
Another Russian-installed official estimated Saturday that approximately 25,000 people from across the region had made their way over the Dnieper. In a Telegram post, Kirill Stremousov claimed that civilians were relocating willingly.
Ukrainian and Western officials have expressed concern about potential forced transfers of residents to Russia or Russian-occupied territory.
Ukrainian officials urged Kherson residents to resist attempts to relocate them, with one local official alleging that Moscow wanted to take civilians hostage and use them as human shields.