Russia withholds plans in Kherson as attacks on other fronts continue

Meanwhile, the evacuation of civilians from the Ukrainian city continues

REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO  -   Image of Russian military

Russia remains secretive about its strategy in Kherson amid conflicting reports of a withdrawal and a reinforcement of positions, while fighting continues on other fronts.

"Many times (evacuating) is very difficult for people, because they have to leave their homes, their lives," admitted the pro-Russian deputy governor, Kiril Stremousov.

The statements by the Moscow-imposed official come as the evacuation of civilians from Kherson, the only provincial capital conquered by Russia since February, continues in full swing in the face of the Ukrainian advance.

The departure of the inhabitants of the city and other localities of the homonymous province is taking place amid great uncertainty about what will happen in the coming days.

Russian sources have so far not disclosed the military command's plans, but they rule out the possibility of handing over the territories annexed last September to Ukraine, despite signals of a possible withdrawal, which, in turn, are being received with great caution in Kiev.

PHOTO/FILE - Kherson's administrative building without the Russian flag
Kherson empties out before the big battle

Stremousov said on Telegram that the authorities are trying to convince the inhabitants of Kherson of the need to take this step so as not to put their security at risk.

"People find it hard to accept the new reality, but we are trying to convince them. We assure them that all this is temporary and it is for their own good, it is to save lives," he stressed.

He added that the task of evacuation was "helped" by attacks by Ukrainian forces, including "on civilian homes".

On Saturday, pro-Russian officials and military bloggers noted "great activity" of artillery in the direction of Kherson. This is allegedly something that has not happened so far.

In addition, Russian sources reported that several missiles were shot down on their way to the regional capital, where two shells did fall, according to local emergency services, quoted by TASS.

Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday called for the evacuation of civilians from Kherson "because the civilian population should not be subjected to shelling, offensives, counter-offensives and other measures related to military operations," he said.

The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said that Russian troops are trying to locate civilians who refuse to leave Kherson as part of the announced evacuations.

According to Ukrainian military expert Oleg Zhdanov, the Russians will not leave Kherson without a "big battle".

"They are building several lines of defence around Kherson and preparing the city for street fighting," he told local media.

According to Zhdanov, Russian troops cannot be expected to withdraw on the grounds of "a goodwill gesture", as was the case in the Kiev region last March.

At the same time, the expert believes that the destruction that Kherson will inevitably suffer will not be on the same scale as that which took place in Mariupol or Severodonetsk, which were taken by the Russians. "We have many other ways to drive out the enemy," he said without elaborating.

PHOTO/FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin poses with the pro-Russian leaders of Kherson, Zaporiyia, Donetsk and Lugansk
Fierce fighting in Donbas

Meanwhile, fighting continues on other battlefronts, mainly in the Donetsk region, which has been partially conquered by Russian troops.

Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelensky said last night that "fierce fighting" was taking place in the eastern Ukrainian towns of Bajmut and Soledar.

He said Ukrainian troops are "holding their positions in these and some other areas in the Donetsk region".

AFP PHOTO/Ukrainian presidential press service - Ukrainian president Volodymir Zelenski

According to Valery Zaluzhny, the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Russian troops have tripled the intensity of their attacks in recent days.

Sergey Cherevaty, a representative of one of the Ukrainian army's military units, said that the situation is very tense near Avdiivka, some 90 kilometres south of Bakhmut, and Vuhledar, where the Russians are trying to encircle Ukrainian troops.

"The situation is difficult, but the soldiers are holding out. The strategic goal of the Russians is to conquer all of Donbas, to present it (as a victory) to its population, that's why they are showing tenacity in the Donetsk region," Cherevaty was quoted as saying by the portal.

The fighting in Donbas was also confirmed by the Russian defence ministry, which said it had repelled several Ukrainian attacks in the east and south.