KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia has promised free accommodation to residents of the occupied Kherson region who want to leave for Russia, in a sign that continued and sustained Ukrainian military gains in the south are worrying the Kremlin.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin made the announcement after the Russia-backed leader of Kherson, one of four Ukrainian regions illegally annexed by Moscow last month, told the Kremlin to arrange the withdrawal of four towns in the region.
“The cities of Kherson region – Kherson and Nova Kakhovka, Hola Prystan and Chornobaivka – are subject to daily missile attacks,” Vladimir Zalto said in a video posted online on Thursday. “These missile attacks cause severe damage, first of all to the residents. The targets of the missiles are hotels, residential buildings, markets – (places) where there are large numbers of civilians.
Salto said the decision was made to evacuate Kherson residents to the Russian regions of Rostov, Krasnodar and Stavropol, as well as annexed Crimea.
“I want to ask you to help organize this process. We, the residents of the Kherson region, know that Russia will certainly not abandon their own, Russia will always lend a hand,” Salto said.
His appeal comes as Ukrainian forces push their counteroffensive deeper into the southern Kherson region, albeit at a slower pace.
The move comes as the Ukrainian military continues to make gains in the south. Ukrainian armed forces have recorded steady gains in the south, including the recapture of 75 settlements in the Kherson region over the past month, the Ministry of Reunification of the Temporarily Occupied Territories said Thursday night.
In the east, Ukraine’s armed forces recaptured 502 settlements in Kharkiv region, 43 settlements in Donetsk region and seven settlements in Luhansk region, the ministry said.
Zalto’s deputy, Kirill Stremosov, tried to downplay the announcement, saying in his own statement that “no one is retreating … and no one is planning to leave the Kherson region.”
Earlier on Thursday, the British Army said on Twitter that “Russian occupation authorities may have ordered the preparation of evacuation of some civilians from Kherson”.
“They expect the battle to go all the way to the city of Kherson,” the British Ministry of Defense said.
Earlier on Friday, Russia continued its targeted attacks on critical infrastructure across Ukraine, a strategy that began on Monday with a massive, coordinated attack in nearly every region of the country in response to the Moscow-sponsored bridge bombing. Connects Crimea to the Russian mainland.
Several Russian missile strikes rocked the Zaporizhia regional capital overnight, with the city continuing to be a focal point, while Ukraine pushed its counteroffensive further south.
Zaporizhzhia regional governor Oleksandr Starukh said the city had suffered several explosions overnight in infrastructure facilities, causing fires. Initial reports indicated no casualties, and further details of specific damage were not available. Russian forces have continued to attack the regional capital and surrounding areas in recent days and weeks, raising concerns about the safety of a nearby nuclear power plant.
The regional capital is about 100 miles from Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. Two days ago, an attack on the substation’s communication line failed during fighting in the area, forcing it to turn to diesel-fueled generator power to maintain its reactor cooling systems.
Missile, drone and rocket attacks on Ukraine have kept the country on edge with air raid sirens and strikes on Monday killed 19 people and wounded more than 100, including many in the capital Kyiv.