The newly-appointed commander of Moscow’s operations in Ukraine, General Sergey Surovikin, has said the state of Russia’s “special military operation” in Kherson is “very difficult,” amid Kyiv’s efforts to retake the southern Ukrainian region.
“The Russian army will ensure the safe evacuation of the population,” Surovikin said.
Ukraine has made significant gains toward Kherson in recent weeks, along the western (or right) bank of the Dnipro river. The head of Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence Agency has said that he hopes to recapture the city by the end of the year.
The Kremlin announced last week that its forces would help evacuate residents of occupied Kherson to other areas to move residents out of harm’s way, in the latest indication that Russian forces are struggling in the face of Ukrainian advances.
The Ukrainian deputy head of the Kherson region characterized Russia’s “evacuations” as “semi-voluntary deportation of the Ukrainian population.” The practice has drawn deep concern from international bodies and human rights groups, which have said it may constitute a crime against humanity.
The Ukrainian military said Monday that Russian forces were busy building fortifications in the Kherson region and that they were moving civilians to Crimea.
The Russian-backed leader in Ukraine’s Kherson region also announced Tuesday that there would be a further “organized relocation” of civilians away from frontline settlements.
“I took the difficult but correct decision to announce the organized relocation of the civilian population of Beryslav, Bilozerka, Snihurivka and Oleksandrivka communities to the left bank of the Dnipro river,” Vladimir Saldo said on Telegram, referring to the eastern bank of the river.
“This decision was prompted by the creation of large-scale defensive fortifications so that any attack could be repelled. There is no place for civilians where the military operate. Let the Russian army do its job.”
Saldo said that any civilians who decided to move on “to the regions of Russia” would be given assistance with housing.
Some background: A July report by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said that “massive deportation of civilians” by Russia could, along with other alleged abuses, constitute crimes against humanity.
The OSCE mission that compiled the report wrote that 1.3 million Ukrainian citizens had been deported against their will to Russia and said there was evidence that tens of thousands of civilians had been detained at so-called filtration centers before being transported to Russian-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine.