Russian President Vladimir Putin publicly endorsed the evacuation of civilians from parts of Ukraine’s southern Kherson region on Friday, Nov. 4. as Kiev continues its offensive to retake the province, or oblast.
“Now, of course, those who live in Kherson should be removed from the zone of the most dangerous actions, because the civilian population should not suffer,” Putin told pro-Kremlin activists as he marked Russia’s Day of National Unity.
According to Reuters, the statements are the first time that Putin has personally supported the evacuations.
Russia took the city of Kherson, home to around 300,000, and a large stretch of territory nearby early on in the invasion of Ukraine that began in February. But the Ukrainian forces, with copious Western material and economic support, have been sending wave after wave of troops to push them out.
The Kherson front represents an important foothold for Russia as it lies west and north of the Dnieper River that bisects Ukraine.
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In September and early October, fast-moving Ukrainian offensives retook a portion of the bridgehead, but progress has stalled over the last several weeks though heavy fighting continues.
The accuracy of modern munitions and the large-scale use of small, cheap drones to scout out enemy positions and serve as kamikaze weapons have drastically increased the effectiveness of artillery strikes as compared with previous large-scale wars.
This week, the Russian authorities — which recently annexed Kherson and three other oblasts of Ukraine as part of Moscow’s territory — announced that the evacuation zone would include a 15 km buffer area on the east bank of the Dnieper.
Russia says it has been taking residents to safety from the path of a Ukrainian advance, while Kiev says the measures have included forced deportations of civilians to Russia proper, which would be a war crime. The Kremlin denies the charges.
Reuters portrayed Putin’s comments as a sign that Russia is getting ready to abandon the west bank of the Dnieper, which would include losing the city of Kherson itself. A Nov. 4 report by the news wire service pointed to a statement on Nov. 3 (Thursday) by local Russian governor Kirill Stremousov, who said that Russian troops could embark on a full-scale retreat but hoped that this would not be case.
Pictures have circulated on the internet showing the main administration building in Kherson city with Russia’s flag no longer flying atop it. Kiev has been wary, saying such signs could be Russian deception to lure Ukrainian troops into a trap.
Speaking about the progress of battles along the front, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said that while his country’s forces hold their positions in the east, Moscow was being insanely stubborn in its decision to deploy “tens or hundreds of thousands more people to the meat grinder.”
Zelenskiy was apparently referring to the 300,000 reservists recently called up by the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation to serve in the war, a development that came as the Russians proved unable to effectively hold their gains in the eastern Donbass region with professional servicemen alone.
The United States announced $400 million worth of additional security assistance for Ukraine, including refurbishing T-72 tanks from the Czech Republic and missiles for HAWK air defenses that could be used against Russian drones and cruise missiles.
Reuters contributed to this report.