A Ukrainian official has called Russia’s move to withdraw troops from the west bank of the Dnipro river in Kherson a trap and said it was making the settlements appear safer but setting them up as a pretext for street battles.
“This could be a manifestation of a particular provocation, in order to create the impression that the settlements are abandoned, that it is safe to enter them, while they are preparing for street battles,” Natalia Humeniuk, spokesperson for Ukraine’s southern military command, said in televised remarks.
This comes a day after a Russian-backed official in southern Ukraine’s Kherson city – one of the four cities captured by Moscow in an illegal referendum last month – said Russia’s soldiers will be leaving the critical riverside area which has served as a ground for Moscow’s military unit.
“Most likely our units, our soldiers, will leave for the left (eastern) bank,” said Kirill Stremousov, the Russian-installed deputy civilian administrator of the Kherson region.
Moscow has also been evacuating citizens in recent weeks, indicating a retreat in what is seen to be a setback for Russia in its war against Ukraine.
An attack on the main river crossing would pose a major risk to the Russian units which have been pinned against the river by the advancing Ukrainian army.
There was no immediate confirmation of a military retreat from Moscow in Kherson, while experts in Kyiv and the west monitoring the war have flagged caution, stating this could be to lure advancing Ukrainian troops into a trap.
An unverified photo circulating online showed the main administrative building in Kherson city without Russia’s flag atop it suggesting that it had been removed amid speculations questioning Russia’s exit from the region.
The placing of the flag was a symbolic move by the Kremlin after it captured the Ukrainian territory last month.
Ukraine quickly rubbished the claims and said the move could be a part of Russian disinformation.
The Russia-installed official, however, maintained that their forces are on to taking some “difficult decisions”.
“We have to take some very difficult decisions now. Whatever our strategy might be. And some people might be afraid to recognise things,” Mr Stremousov said.
He urged people to evacuate the region and said: “But for me it is very important to try to say at the moment – People, please go over to the east bank. You will be in a far safer position.”
But he also said he hoped “that we will not leave Kherson" and if that were to happen, “it will be a big blow not only in terms of the image of us all, but a big blow for people who could stay here”.
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