Live Updates: Russia’s War in Ukraine
Kremlin-appointed leaders in the occupied Kherson region of southern Ukraine said they had started evacuating civilians further from the front line.
Vladimir Saldo, the Russian-backed governor of Kherson, told Russian television on Tuesday evening that he intended to relocate up to 60,000 people to the left bank of the Dnipro.
Ukraine previously said Russia was forcibly deporting Ukrainian civilians; human rights groups and international bodies have warned that the practice could constitute a crime against humanity.
Saldo announced the “organized relocation” of civilians on Telegram on Tuesday.
“Our main task is to save lives and enable the troops of the Russian Federation to effectively perform their duties of protecting the Kherson region,” he said.
“We will take the civilian population to the left bank in an organized and gradual manner.”
All civil administration ministries installed by Russia in the Kherson region will also move to the left bank of the Dnipro, Saldo said, adding that entry to the region will be closed to civilians for seven days.
Residents of Kherson received a text message asking them to leave the city due to the threat of shelling by the Ukrainian army on Wednesday morning, Russian state media RIA Novosti reported.
Russia’s “mass deportation of civilians” could, along with other alleged abuses, amount to crimes against humanity, according to a July report by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
In September, Ukraine’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Khrystyna Hayovyshyn, told the UN Security Council that Russia had forcibly expelled 2.5 million people from Ukraine – including 38,000 children – claiming that it was a violation of human rights.
The Kremlin’s mass evacuation of citizens from Kherson comes amid efforts by Kyiv to retake territory in the south.
A Russian official warned of a potential new Ukrainian counteroffensive in Kherson on Wednesday.
Saldo’s deputy, Kirill Stremousov, said the situation was “stable”, but said the Ukrainian army could strike “at any time” and asked people to cross to the left bank of the Dnipro.
“As of the morning of October 19, the situation on the fronts and approaches to the Kherson region is stable,” he said.
“The enemy is concentrating its forces and can at any time begin to launch strikes against the civilian population of Kherson and the Kherson region. No one is going to retreat, but we want to save your life. Please cross the left bank (of the Dnipro river) as quickly as possible.
Ukraine’s deputy head of the Kherson region, Yurii Sobolevskyi, called the “evacuations” from Russia a “semi-voluntary deportation of the Ukrainian population”.
Sobolevskyi confirmed to CNN that evacuations were underway.
“People are actually leaving. There are a lot of people in the port of Kherson now,” he said.
“Today they started mass texting people about the evacuation. They also started distributing leaflets about actions during the evacuation. At the same time, the message is spreading among the population that if they go to Russia, they will receive housing certificates.
Sobolevskyi, who spoke to CNN from Kyiv, accused the Russian-backed authorities of “escalating hysteria”.
“On the one hand, we understand that the Ukrainian armed forces will liberate Kherson and the region, therefore there may be active hostilities, and this is a risk for the local population.
“On the other hand, there is no guarantee that the evacuees will be safe (where they are going) and away from the front line. People will make their own decisions – to leave or to stay. It is difficult to say what decision they will make. .