Kyiv, Ukraine (Associated Press) – In a sign that continued and sustained Ukrainian military gains along the southern front are worrying the Kremlin, Russia is promising free accommodation for residents of the partially occupied Kherson region who wish to evacuate to Russia.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khosnolin made the announcement shortly after the Russian-backed leader of Kherson, one of four Ukrainian regions illegally annexed by Moscow last month, asked the Kremlin to organize an evacuation from four cities in the region.
“Cities of the Kherson region – Kherson, Nova Kakhovka, Hula Pristan and Chornobayvka – are under daily missile strikes,” Vladimir Saldo said in a video posted online on Thursday. “These missile strikes inflict severe damage, first of all on the population. Among the targets hit by the missiles are hotels, apartment buildings, markets – (places) where there are a lot of civilians.”
Saldo said a decision was made to evacuate Kherson residents to Russia’s Rostov, Krasnodar and Stavropol regions, as well as to the annexed Crimea.
“I would like to ask you to help organize this process. We, the residents of the Kherson region, of course know that Russia does not abandon its country, and Russia always provides assistance. “
His call comes as Ukrainian forces push their counterattack 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. The Ministry of Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories said late Thursday night that Ukraine’s armed forces reported steady territorial gains along the southern front, including the recovery of 75 settlements in Kherson region last month.
In the east, the Ukrainian armed forces recaptured 502 settlements in the Kharkiv region, 43 in the Donetsk region and seven in the Luhansk region, the ministry said.
Saldo’s deputy, Kirill Strimosov, in his statement tried to downplay the announcement, saying: “No one is holding back … No one is planning to leave the Kherson Territory.”
Earlier on Thursday, the British military said on Twitter that “the Russian occupation authorities have probably ordered preparations for the evacuation of some civilians from Kherson”.
“It is likely that they expect the fighting to extend to Kherson itself,” the British Ministry of Defense said.
Early Friday, Russia continued its targeted attacks on critical infrastructure across Ukraine, a strategy that began on Monday, when a massive and coordinated attack on nearly every region of the country was said to have been carried out in response to the explosion on a Moscow-financed bridge. It connects Crimea to the Russian mainland.
Multiple Russian missile strikes rocked the capital of Zavorizhia region overnight as the city continued to be a focal point while Ukraine intensified its counterattack on the southern front.
The governor of the Zaporizhzhya region, Oleksandr Starukh, said that several explosions were reported in the city during the night at infrastructure facilities, causing fires. There were no casualties in the initial reports, and no further details about specific damages were available. Russian forces have bombed the regional capital and the surrounding area continuously in recent days and weeks, raising concerns about the safety of the nearby nuclear power plant.
About 100 miles from the plant is the regional capital, which is the largest nuclear power plant in Europe. Two days earlier, it had to switch back to diesel generator power to maintain the reactor’s cooling systems after an attack on a substation communications line was lost during fighting in the area.
Missile, drone and missile attacks on Ukraine have kept the country on alert with frequent air raid sirens, creating a heightened sense of urgency after 19 people were killed and more than 100 injured, including many in the capital, Kyiv.
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