The Russian-installed authorities in Ukraine have advised residents of the city of Kherson to leave “immediately” pending an expected advance of Ukrainian troops.
The regional government posted a message on the Telegram app on Saturday urging citizens to leave the city, citing an expected Ukrainian counter-offensive to retake one of the first urban areas Russia took after the country’s invasion.
Kherson has been in Russian hands since the early days of the nearly eight-month-long invasion of Ukraine. It is the capital of a region of the same name, one of four regions that Russian President Vladimir Putin illegally annexed last month and placed under Russian martial law on Thursday.
On Friday, Ukrainian forces bombed Russian positions in the province, targeting pro-Kremlin forces’ supply routes across the Dnieper River, preparing for a last-ditch effort to reclaim the city.
The Ukrainian army has conquered large areas in the north of the region since it launched a counter-offensive in late August. It reported new successes on Saturday, saying Russian troops had been forced to withdraw from the villages of Charivne and Chkalove in Beryslav district.
Kherson’s Kremlin-backed authorities previously announced plans to evacuate all Russian-appointed officials and as many as 60,000 civilians across the river, in what local leader Vladimir Saldo said would be an “organized, gradual displacement.”
Another Russian-installed official on Saturday estimated that about 25,000 people from across the region had crossed the Dnieper. In a Telegram post, Kirill Stremousov claimed that citizens move voluntarily.
Ukrainian and Western officials have expressed concern about possible forced relocations of residents to Russia or Russian-occupied territory.
Ukrainian officials urged Kherson residents to resist attempts to relocate them, with a local official claiming Moscow wanted to take civilians hostage and use them as human shields.